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Breeding for the Future

Coffee plants for the 21st century
Minicuttings

The problem

Current coffee varieties were created for 20th century coffee sector.  We already have significant evidence that they will not tolerate the environmental threats of the 21st century—changing weather patterns, increased temperatures, and new disease and insect prevalence. This creates a potentially disastrous decline in supply in the coming decades.

The solution

Building the next generation of coffee varieties and sustaining the industry’s genetic and breeding pools is a major, cross-cutting initiative too big for an individual institute to undertake, which is why a global organization like World Coffee Research must lead the effort.

In the coming years, together with our partners, we will:

  • Discover new genes and create a comprehensive database of genes and markers using the latest DNA technologies that allow us to identify the best parents for breeding programs (ongoing)
  • Locating the 100 existing varieties with the most genetic diversity to become a central breeding pool (the Core Collection), and use it to develop new inter- and intra-specific hybrids that combine maximum genetic diversity with high performance (new plants in five years)
  • Create enhanced Arabicas that combine the best characteristics of Arabica and Robusta in one plant (new plants in 10 years)
  • Re-create Arabica by replicating the events of the original natural cross of C. eugenioides with C. Canephora; the new plants will have novel genetic diversity that can be used in breeding programs to unlock resilience traits and deliver extremely high quality (new plants in 15-20 years)
  • Develop the next generation of coffee breeders

All these programs are underpinned by the WCR Sensory program that ensures the highest cup quality through early generation and parental screening.

Impact

The coffee industry cannot single-handedly reverse climate change. Our best hope for sustaining the supply of high quality coffee in the 21st century is to focus on making the coffee plant more resilient. The creation of new, highly adaptable varieties, supported by a vibrant new seed sector, will result in major global productivity and quality gains in the next 10-20 years.


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  • Authors: Major funding from: USAID. Additional funding by Mars, the Fulbright Program, and CAPES.
  • Location: Colombia, Kenya, Costa Rica, France
  • Leaders: Benoit Bertrand
  • Partners: CATIE, CIRAD, Promecafe, USAID, Cenicafe, AFCA, Texas A&M University
  • Cost: $450,000/year
  • Timeline: 2013-present