The recent coffee leaf rust crisis in Central America affected over 550,000 thousand hectacres of coffee farmland. Nearly 300,000 coffee farmers need to replant coffee because of it. But many of them are at risk of using poor quality seedlings, susceptible varieties, or seeds that are poorly adapted to their location—meaning they will continue to be vulnerable to future disease outbreaks.
Because the life of a coffee tree is 20-30 years, if a farmer makes a poor decision on variety, the cumulative loss can be huge. Home gardeners in the U.S. can order vegetables or flowers from seed catalogs that include details like germination times, expected yield, and recommended fertilization. Unbelievably, coffee farmers—who earn their livelihoods based on the decisions they make about what kind of coffee to plant—don’t have a similar resource. The lack of a comprehensive, up-to-date coffee catalog puts farmers at risk.
World Coffee Research, with support from USAID and PROMECAFE, will create the first-ever catalog of coffee varieties for Central America, Peru and Jamaica. The Variety Intelligence project gathers in one place all the existing information on the major varieties in the region. It includes information on yield, disease resistance, performance at altitude, and cup quality, as well as on whether varieties are available through the World Coffee Research Verified program.
Information is power. The Variety Intelligence project brings urgently needed information to coffee farmers to help them decide which coffee is best for their situation. The Coffee Varieties of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean catalog will be distributed to thousands of coffee farmers through national coffee institutions, exporters, cooperatives and nurseries that supply coffee plants and seeds. We expect that on farms that use the catalog to make their replanting decisions, producers can expect increase both the quality and volume of coffee by 10-15%.
Since coffee producers who make good planting decisions will be at much less risk of threats from disease, the risk to coffee importers and roasters will also be less.
Choosing the right variety also has consequences for quality in the cup. Farmers will be more likely to plant varieties that are well adapted to their environments given good information about this essential factor. Samples of varieties from around the region will be evaluated using the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon to provide rigorous, objective feedback on the sensory qualities of each variety.