A farmer’s most important assets are his or her coffee plants and the soils they grow in. If these assets are old, tired, and out-of-date, then sooner or later the farm will enter a downward production spiral. If a farm is unprofitable for too long or if the farmer is unable to support his or her family from what profits there are, they will eventually leave coffee farming altogether. This cycle is repeating itself daily around the world.
The varieties currently being used by the majority of the world’s coffee farmers are not well suited for the 21st century. They are susceptible to major diseases, intolerant of rising temperatures, and often low yielding. But better varieties exist, which can yield more coffee at similar or even improved quality with far lower risk to farmers because they are resistant to major diseases. If they are adopted by farmers and grown with appropriate attention to soil health, these varieties can substantively increase a farm’s profitability.
But in order for farmers to change the plants on their farm or shift long-standing practices they need two things they don’t normally have: 1) an investment loan to help them replace old, outdated coffee trees and to assist them in maintaining healthy soil, and 2) a personal conviction that renovation and soil health matter. Farmers must both see and feel the return on investment in technologies in their own fields and in their own wallets before they consider making changes—as they should. But historically, neither farmers nor their banks have been presented with real data that help them make the case for investing in improving the core assets on their farms.
The Global Coffee Monitoring Program is a network of small, on-farm demonstration trials that allow a farmer to be convinced through the scientific testing of two improved coffee varieties and two soil treatments directly in their fields. Each farm trial site uses the farmer’s current varieties and soil practices as controls for comparison. When it’s time to harvest, the farmer sees and feels the difference of high returns. This creates demand for improved varieties and better soil health that fuels greater supplies of better coffee for the future. Supply chain partners can sponsor plots in regions where they source coffee, and in some cases directly on farms in their supply chains.
This program is the last mile between subsistence-level coffee farming and professional coffee farming. It’s the missing link between Good Agricultural Practices and Best Agricultural Practices, which gets profitable technologies into the hands of farmers to move the needle on world supplies of coffee, allowing farmers to make real money in the process, which reinforces the virtuous cycle of growth.
It is business-driven science, rigorously testing the best technologies for increased farmer profitability right in the farmer’s own field. It is also science-driven business, aimed squarely at providing banks and other creditors with convincing, hard data on the return on investment of extending technology-driven renovation loans to farmers who otherwise have a difficulty access credit.
World Coffee Research is working with partners including roasters, importers, and exporters to extend the Global Coffee Monitoring Program network across the globe with hundreds of trial plots in scores of producing countries. This network of small plots will produce big data on coffee production and quality that can be aggregated globally, helping World Coffee Research and its partners to monitor the effects of climate change on productivity, geography, farming systems, cup quality, diseases and other important variables around the entire globe. Ultimately, the results of this research will advance global knowledge about the effects of varieties, climate and environment on production and quality of coffee.
For individual farmers, the program means lowered risk, the production of more and better coffee, and increased profits to support their livelihood in coffee farming.
It creates compelling data to enable the expansion of access to credit for farmers. It also significantly advances scientific knowledge about coffee variety performance and soil treatments across locations, which inform farmer training and future coffee breeding efforts.
For the coffee industry as a whole, the program accelerates the adoption of new varieties that are high quality, disease resistant and higher yielding, providing an overall boost to the global supply of high quality coffee.