Traceability and Training Tools
Worldwide, most farmers do not have access to high-quality coffee plants, which exposes them to tremendous unnecessary risks. In most parts of the world, when it’s time for a coffee farmer to plant a new tree on their farm, he has two choices: Save his own seed, or obtain it from a neighbor or local nurseries. Many nurseries are in remote areas and primitive, producing questionable varieties of questionable plant health. In most cases, these nurseries take or buy seeds from local farmers or institutions but do not take into consideration genetic traceability and purity of the seed—in other words, they often don’t know for certain what variety they are selling. Training is limited or nonexistent for most nursery owners; most learn on-the-fly and have scarce access to technical assistance. Additionally, a majority of seed producers, nurseries, farmers and supply chain actors do not have the needed tools to identify and trace varieties as they move from seed gardens to nurseries, from nurseries to farmer fields, from the field to the port, and from there into roasting drums around the world. For the specialty market, where specific coffee varieties like Geisha, Maragogype or Pacamara create value and can generate higher prices for farmers, it’s even more important to have access to accurate variety information.
Best practices manuals. To fill an urgent gap in knowledge about best practices, WCR developed a series of three manuals of best practices for producing genetically pure and healthy seedlings, as well as on good business practices, tailors for nurseries both small and large. These manuals are freely available to all (see below) in Spanish and English.
Genetic traceability tools—low-density SNP panel. Genotyping tools are regularly used in other commercial crops by both industry and the scientific community to authenticate varieties, understand genetic diversity and design more efficient breeding schemes. These tools are not widely available in coffee, or have so far been too expensive or impractical to use. Now, WCR is leading the charge to develop rapid, reliable, accurate and affordable genotyping tools for both arabica and robusta.
Recent technological advances have created accurate, repeatable, inexpensive, and rapid options for the genetic identification of plants. A method of testing that analyzes the presence of single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers has become the method of choice for genotyping in many plant species. The pattern of these tiny variations dispersed through a plant’s DNA sequence can be used to create a genetic “fingerprint” for a variety. SNP markers are accurate and can be analyzed quickly and at much lower cost than other genetic markers. Because of these advantages, SNPs have become the marker of choice for variety identification in plants.
A panel of 40-50 SNP markers that provides a quick and definitive genetic fingerprint to authenticate specific coffee varieties. This is especially important for seed providers, who mass produce seed or plants for farmers. Accurate identification of specific coffee varieties ensures that when breeders develop improved varieties, their higher potential is able to be captured by farmers. This tool is also of value to others including individual farmers seeking to identify the varieties on their farm or coffee companies looking to validate a source of supply. Low-density panels for arabica and robusta will be transferred to a commercial genotyping lab that can offer variety authentication as a service for seed producers and others (in 2023 for arabica, and 2023-4 for robusta).
Assessment. To build a strong and professional coffee seed sector, WCR assists key countries to evaluate their seed systems, and identify gaps and roadmaps for future investment. In addition, we support individual seed suppliers to assess their genetic purity and variety traceability systems using new, low-cost genotyping tools (see above).
Supporting the professionalization of the coffee nursery sector globally and putting better tools in the hands of seed producers and nurseries worldwide allows expanded access to improved, resilient varieties for smallholders, leading to increased production and profits. Such steps leading to increased production and profits, creating value for farmers.