Coming along in Kenya
In 2013, a box containing four plastic baggies of coffee seeds arrived
from Kenya to a lab in Florida. Each bag was labelled in handwritten
pen: SL28, Batian, Ruiru 11, K7. Coffee experts will recognize these as
the names of some of the most important coffee varieties developed
through Kenya's century-long coffee breeding program.
The seeds were Kenya's contribution to the World Coffee Research
International Multilocation Variety Trial, or IMLVT, the world’s largest
coffee variety performance trial
and seed exchange ever conducted.
To establish the trial, WCR's partners (Kenya and 10 others),
provided 31 of the world’s best arabica varieties. Each partner shipped
seeds following strict phytosanitary controls to a sterile lab in
Florida. Clones of each variety were made using in vitro tissue culture
Each of the 31 varieties has been distributed to 22 participating countries—including Kenya. When plants first arrive to a participating country from the lab in Florida, they are in a tube, standing about a centimeter tall and suspended in a clear, goopy medium called agar.
Local researchers painstakingly work to get the baby plants
translated into soil and acclimated to life outside a sterile test
tube. These Sl6 plantlets
arrived at the nursery in Ruiru, Kenya, in February 2015 and were moved
into bags with soil. They spent about 6 months maturing in the nursery
before being transplanted to the field.
Kenya's 4 varieties are now planted alongside 27 others in research plots in 22 countries. Researchers in each will spend the coming years evaluating how the plants perform in different environments.
The trial is executed in close collaboration with partnering research
institutes. In Kenya, our partners from the Kenyan Agricultural and
Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Coffee Research Institute
(CRI) have worked hard to
install, monitor, and maintain the research plots and conduct agronomic
In addition to being a key provider of varieties
for the global trial network, Kenya was one of the first countries
to install its IMLVT plots. The country has plots in two locations:
Ruiru in the central part of the country and Koru in the west. The site in Koru has nearly 4 times as much
rainfall as the site in Ruiru. It is also, on average, 3.5 degrees
hotter, with an annual average temperature of 22.5°C. These
environmental differences are a key part of the trial--researchers are
evaluating how varieties perform differently in different conditions,
both within Kenya and across the entire global network.
A total of 29 varieties have been planted, and early evaluations of vegetative growth began in 2017. In 2018, the trial reached maturity and Kenya celebrated the first harvest from the research plots at Koru and Ruiru. Early data indicates there is significant variation in agronomic traits and rust susceptibility for the different varieties in the two Kenyan locations. The first full genetics x environment evaluations will be done in 2020.
In 2018, Kenya had it's first mature harvest of coffee cherries from IMLVT trial sites. The first quality analysis took place with expert cuppers from the Coffee Research Institute in Kenya. Kenyan coffee breeders and agronomists are watching the trial closely to determine if there are varieties that might offer advantages for Kenyan coffee farmers.