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Coffee varieties of mesoamerica and the caribbean

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Rebuilding in Puerto Rico

After disaster, supporting an island to revitalize its coffee farms
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The problem

In fall 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria ripped across Puerto Rico and wiped out 80% of the coffee harvest for the island’s 4,000+ coffee farmers. It was a devastating blow: The island was on track to have the best harvest in 10 years, worth an estimated $100 million, after three decades of steady decline. World Coffee Research estimated that 18-20 million trees—80% of the trees on the island—needed to be replanted in order for the island’s farmers to regain what was had lost. But farms weren’t the only things damaged by the storms—the hurricanes also destroyed the island’s seed gardens and nurseries, which suddenly needed to produce millions of trees for farmers that desperately needed to replant their farms. Despite the critical situation, many farmers were interested in continuing to produce coffee—but they needed trees.

The solution

While Maria caused significant damage, it also created a unique opportunity for Puerto Rico to rebuild its coffee plantations from the ground up, starting with the place where coffee begins—the seed. Starting in December 2017, World Coffee Research, with support from the Starbucks Foundation, assembled a task force of key stakeholders on the island, including local researchers, government representatives, the farmer’s association, and nurseries, to address critical questions connected to rebuilding the island’s capacity to produce and distribute trees for farmers.

Today, funding from the Hispanic Federation is enabling World Coffee Research and its partner Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters to increase the long-term resilience of coffee growers on the island by diversifying and improving the quality of coffee seed material available distributing over 2 million trees directly to farmers. Long term needs for the island will be addressed through the establishment of genetically pure seedlots that can feed into the local nursery network. (In Puerto Rico, as in much of the coffee-producing world, the purity of seed coming even from officially sanctioned or certified seedlots is severely compromised—genetic analysis of the island’s seedlots by World Coffee Research in 2018 confirmed this.)

Impact

Before Hurricane Maria ripped across the island, Puerto Rican coffee farmers were expecting one of the largest harvests in years—double the production of the previous two years. But farmers were able to harvest only 20% of that expected bumper crop. Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s coffee sector by combining its traditional varieties with more productive, higher quality varieties, paired with training and support to bolster seed gardens and nurseries to produce the plants, is expected to result in significant boost for Puerto Rican coffee production within 6-7 years, as well as create the conditions for sustaining that increase. 

Project Updates

  • Location: Puerto Rico
  • Leaders: Viviana Media, Kraig Kraft
  • Partners: Hispanic Federation, Puerto Rico Coffee Roasters, Starbucks Foundation, RD2 Vision
  • Timeline: 2018-2021