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On-Farm Demonstration Trial Network

Business-driven science, science-driven business
measuring plants

The problem

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 If these assets are old, tired, and out-of-date, then sooner or later the farm will enter a downward production spiral.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 it's not easy for farmers to change the plants on their farm to shift long-standing farming practices. A farmer needs two things they don’t normally have: 1) an investment loan to help them replace old, outdated coffee trees with young trees better suited to their circumstance and to assist them in maintaining healthy soil, and 2) a personal conviction that renovation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 solution

The On-Farm Demonstration Trial (OFDT) network is a program that allows a farmer to be convinced through the scientific testing of two  improved coffee varieties and two soil treatments directly in their fields. The trials use the farmer's current varieties and soil practices as controls for comparison.  When harvest time comes, the farmer sees and feels the difference between their existing assets and practices, and reaps high returns. This in turn creates demand for improved varieties and better soil health that fuels greater supplies of better coffee for the future.

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 multiple partners across the supply chain, from roasters to importers to exporters to NGOs, to extend the ODFT network across the coffee production globe with hundreds of trial plots in scores of producing countries.  The OFDT network will include 20-60 farms in each of 20 key coffee 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. 

How it works:

  1. WCR works with supply chain partners to select farms for participation and to set up agronomic support teams to assist farmers in the implementation and maintenance of the trial.
  2. Supply chain partners will sponsor the plots to remove the risk for the farmer—the sponsorship will cover the cost of the new plants, as well as the lost income to the farmer of waiting two years for the new trees to mature and produce fruit.
  3. Farm data including soil and leaf samples are collected to inform WCR scientific team so that appropriate soil treatments and varieties can be selected for each farm.
  4.  The farmer will work with supporting agronomists to collect outcomes data.
  5. In years 2 and 3, WCR will organize farm business/ROI training for all farmers in program using their own data from their own fields and farms. 
  6. WCR will work with its supply chain partners to incorporate ROI data and presentation into farmer and cooperative loan portfolios.

The impact

For individual farmers, the program means lowering risk, producing more and better coffee, and increased profits to support their livelihood in coffee farming. World Coffee Research has estimated that the use of high-yielding, high quality new hybrid varieties produces an average income gain of $1750 per hectare per year to a farmer. This income gain was calculated without additional soil treatments; the expected income gain with soil treatments could be substantially higher. By the end of 10 years, a farmer who has renovated only 1 hectare of land can have earned an additional $15,000. For farmers in areas with susceptibility to major diseases, their long term risk will be significantly lowered through renovation with plants resistant to major diseases in their area. As farmers see and feel the high return on investment of improved technologies, their adoption will spread farmer-to-farmer, rippling out across the coffeelands, with benefits for the entire sector.

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 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 all of these reasons, no other single farm intervention can make as great as an impact on future global coffee production and quality as the ODFT program. 




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  • Location: El Salvador, Costa Rica, Congo (the Democratic Republic of the), Guatemala, Laos, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Panama, Rwanda, Honduras, Kenya, Peru
  • Leaders: Tim Schilling, Christophe Montagnon, Salvador Loucel, Sara Bogantes
  • Partners: Roasting companies, exporters, host country coffee institutions and coffee farmers
  • Cost: $5.7 million
  • Timeline: 2016-2026