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Coffee varieties of mesoamerica and the caribbean

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Breeding for the Future

Coordinate a global strategy to accelerate the creation of 21st-century varieties
Green cherries

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. Additionally, prior breeding efforts largely failed to take cup quality into account.

The solution

Building the next generation of coffee varieties and sustaining the industry’s genetic resources and breeding pools is a major, cross-cutting initiative too big for an individual institute to undertake. By drawing on the latest breakthroughs in coffee genetics and working in collaboration with individual country breeding programs, WCR is accelerating the creation of coffee varieties to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The cornerstone of WCR’s strategy is the creation of a network of regional breeding hubs that countries, research institutes, and private sector partners can utilize to accelerate the pace of coffee genetic improvement. Hubs have a collaborative design and governance among participating partners, and are coordinated locally by a host institution. To each hub, World Coffee Research contributes the results of advance research, including:

  • Genes and molecular markers to accelerate molecular breeding approaches (cutting in half the time to create new crosses)
  • Training for local breeders on advanced breeding techniques
  • Improved breeding populations, including the WCR Core Collection, 100 genetically diverse C. arabica plants that can be used to develop new high-performing hybrid varieties that combine maximum genetic diversity with high performance (new plants in five years)
  • All these programs are underpinned by the WCR Sensory program that ensures the highest cup quality through early generation and parental screening.

Participants to each hub bring their own locally available, top-performing plant material and, using the above, create crosses that are adapted to the local requirements. Priority targets include:

  • Disease resistance/tolerance
  • Cup quality
  • Productivity
  • Traits linked to climate resilience
  • Traits linked to harvest (e.g., uniform ripening time)
  • Traits linked to production efficiency (e.g., dwarf/tall)
  • Tolerance to abiotic stresses (drought, heat, light, cold)
  • Fertilizer efficiency

Participants take progeny from crosses back to their home countries to do local field selection. Participants may also send promising candidate varieties into World Coffee Research’s global International Multilocation Variety Trial (40+ sites in 27 countries).

Longer-term projects might include the creation of enhanced Arabicas that combine the best characteristics of Arabica and Robusta in one plant; the new plants will have novel genetic diversity that can be used in breeding programs to unlock resilience traits and deliver extremely high quality .

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.

Project Updates

  • coffee trees uganda

    Work is underway at a new Breeding Hub in East Africa, which is using advanced breeding approaches to help combat low yield, climate change, and disease. A new article in Global Coffee Report highlights the work so far.

    Read the Whole Story
  • robusta!

    On the island of East Timor, sometime in the 1920s, an impossible legend was born: the Timor Hybrid. Somehow, a C. arabica plant and a C. canephora (Robusta) plant reproduced and created a natural hybrid offspring—an Arabica variety that contained Robusta genetics.

    Read the Whole Story
  • Hub

    Since our creation in 2012, World Coffee Research has worked to create a path for sustainable coffee production through agricultural innovation to help coffee farmers face the challenges of climate change. One of our main area of focus has been the creation and propagation of the next generation of coffee varieties that are high in quality and yield, and resilient to diseases and the effects of climate change. This month, we are making great strides in this area with the launch of our African breeding hub in Rwanda, hosted by our partners at the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).

    Read the Whole Story
  • Nicafrance

    Molecular breeding is an approach that allows breeders to be more efficient and targeted in their work. Molecular breeding is different from genetic modification—it allows breeders to make predictions about the traits a plant will have based on DNA profiles. Learn how WCR is applying molecular breeding in coffee.

    Read the Whole Story
  • Coping with 32°

    Date: 6.21.18
    Heat stress

    Research shows clearly that rising temperatures pose the greatest threat to coffee, greater even than increased drought.

    Read the Whole Story
  • F1 experimental Costa Rica

    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 coffees, supported by a vibrant new seed sector, will result in major global productivity and quality gains in the next 10-20 years. In 2015, WCR achieved a number of milestones toward this goal.

    Read the Whole Story
  • Location: France
  • Leaders: Lucile Toniutti
  • Partners: CATIE, CIRAD, Nicafrance, Promecafe, Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), NACORI Uganda
  • Timeline: Ongoing