Today, it is impossible for most coffee producers to maximize the value of their land growing coffee. Many coffee producers continue to grow coffee despite losses and low income, because they have a tradition and passion for coffee production, or because it’s the only agricultural market they can access. These tenuous conditions are the foundation of the coffee industry.
A farmer’s most important assets are his or her coffee plants and the soils they grow in. But 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. Similarly, evidence on best practices for climate-resilient farming approaches for coffee, taking into account different climates, soil types, and farming systems is almost nonexistent. It is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for farmers to achieve economic sustainability without information about and access to the varieties and farming practices best suited for their growing conditions and farming system.
The Global Coffee Monitoring Program is an unprecedented network (1,100 trials in 30 countries by 2022) situated directly in farmer fields. The trials provide detailed data on which combination of variety and climate-smart farming practices yield the highest profits for farmers across a broad range of environments, altitudes, soil types, and farming systems.
Each participating farm tests two improved varieties and agronomy treatments against the farmer’s existing variety and agronomy practices, which serve as controls. In all, each trial site has nine “treatment areas”—3 varieties x 3 agronomy treatments.
The approach is innovative on multiple fronts: testing improved technologies on a farmer’s own land (not in a research station), delivering agricultural research results directly to farmers, prioritizing farmer profitability and return on investment, and working together with farmers, exporters, NGOs, and governments to execute the trials.
Each trial plot tests two new varieties against the farmer's current one, and two improved soil/agronomy treatments against the farmer's current practice.
The trial will allow producers and supply chain actors to consider
their farm size, farming system, elevation, soil type, shade %, climate,
what market they sell into, and many other variables, and receive
scientifically supported recommendations for what coffee variety to
plant and how best to care for the trees in order to maximize profit.
This program 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 credit institutions and supply chain investors with hard data
on the return on investment of extending technology-driven renovation
loans to farmers who otherwise may have difficulty accessing credit.
For individual farmers, the program means lowered risk to try out new technologies, the production of more and better coffee, and increased profits to support their livelihood in coffee farming. 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. It creates compelling data to enable smart investments in farms. It also significantly advances scientific knowledge about variety performance and climate-smart agricultural practices across locations, which will transform farmer training around the world.
In 2019, WCR made the following strides with the GCMP:
- 5 new countries added to the program
- 13 countries with trials installed as of end of year
- 189 new trial sites installed in 2019
- 333 trials installed across entire network as of end of year
- 20 trials that produced first or second harvest
- 1 farmer field day held in 2019 (Nicaragua)
- 34 varieties being tested across trial network
Each trial site is located in farmer's fields, and is is big enough for the farmer to feel the difference in his or her pocketbook at the end of harvest.
The program is executive by WCR researchers and agronomists, together with supply chain partners.
How the trials work
- Together with partners, National Coffee Institutions and coffee variety experts, WCR selects the best varieties for the trials considering many aspects, such as the varieties available in a country, the elevation, and partner and farmer preferences in terms of variety characteristics, such as the potential yield, disease resistance and cup quality.
- In each country, WCR holds a workshop attended by local coffee agronomy specialists to determine the major coffee farm types and to make recommendations of agricultural practices that are relevant for the farm types. This allows WCR to come up with a menu of recommended climate-smart agricultural practices per farm types that may be included in the trials.
- WCR provides guidance and training to supply chain partners in farmer selection and trial design, implementation and data collection. Once farm sites are chosen, basic site and socio-economic data are collected, including soil samples, so that appro¬priate treatments and varieties can be recommended. Once farm sites are chosen, soil samples from the farmer’s field and comprehensive baseline data are collected.
- WCR agronomists work with partnering supply chain agrono¬mists to install the trials. Trials test two improved coffee varieties and two sets of climate-smart agricultural practices, along with the farmer’s current variety and agricultural practices as controls for comparison.
- Trials are maintained by farmers with oversight and support from partner agronomists. Data is collected continuously by farmers and partner agronomists, with robust oversight, training and support by WCR agronomists. Data collected include weather data, the growth of the coffee plants, the amount and cost of labor and inputs to maintain the trial, disease and pest occurrence, and, starting in year 3, yield and cup quality data.
- Data from the trials is uploaded to WCR’s databases. Annually, beginning in the second year of the trial, an information brief is produced and given to farmers and partners.
- Also beginning in the second year of the trial, WCR agronomists will hold Farmer Field Days at select trials to observe the trials, discuss the data, and get an understanding of the costs and benefits of each of the trial plots. The main audience for the Farmer Fields Days will be the trial farmers, partner agronomists, and any interested neighboring farmers, though the learning days will be open to all stakeholders.
- WCR will compile data across global sites to produce country and regional reports on the varieties, practices and factors that are shown to increase coffee yield, quality and profitability.
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.
WCR is working with partners including roasting companies, exporters, cooperatives, unions, NGOs, importers, host country coffee institutions and coffee farmers to extend the farm trial network across the coffee production globe with hundreds of plots in dozens of producing countries (10 to 70 plots per country, depending on country size, coffee volumes and eco-geographic variability).
How to partner with us
Roasting companies, importers, exporters, co-ops, NGOs and others with field agronomists. If you source in targeted producing countries and have field agronomists who routinely work with farmers, we can partner with you to install technology trial plots on farms in your supply chain. An in-country WCR coordinating agronomist will work together with your team to select individual farms to establish trials based on mutually agreed criteria.
Roasting or importing companies without field agronomists. Roasters and importers can choose to sponsor one or many field trials as long as the trials are also supported by in-country field agronomists from sourcing partners. WCR will work with you to determine if it’s possible to select a farm or farms in a country where you source, and even, in limited cases, from a farm in your supply chain. Sponsors receive regular updates on the progress of the trial, can arrange for visits to the trial site, and may be able to arrange additional projects or trainings to support partnered farmers.
Costs. The program cost of a single trial for 5 years is approximately $14,000, or $2,800 per year, and is shared by WCR and the partner. Costs include seedlings, agricultural inputs, agronomic support for trial implementation and monitoring, DNA and soil analyses, agronomist trainings, data collection and analysis, and field days. The trials will continue to be active for monitoring purposes for an additional 5 years (10 years total) at minimal expense. Partners may provide their contributions in the form of in-kind support.