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Don’t Worry, There’s a Plan Brewing for Global Coffee Conservation

We hear a lot about coffee being in trouble. Pests, diseases, climate change, you name it, they’re all coming for your brew. It is quite scary—for caffeine addicts like us, for the farmers who grow coffee, and for the companies whose business depends on it. Fortunately, there are many actions that can still be taken to save coffee from a worse fate.

The diversity of coffee (and its wild relatives) acts as an insurance policy against all of those pests, diseases and, yes, even climate change.

So, how do we save coffee diversity? Don’t worry, there’s a plan for that.

Four years ago, together with World Coffee Research, an industry-funded body, the Crop Trust facilitated the work of a group of experts to develop a Global Coffee Conservation Strategy.

Among other findings, the strategy highlighted the critical role of collections of coffee diversity maintained in genebanks at four research institutes in particular, three so-called “origin collections” and one key international collection: the National Center for Agricultural Research (CNRA) in Cote d’Ivoire, the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI), the National Center for Applied Research on Rural Development (FOFIFA) in Madagascar; as well as that of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica. While CATIE’s collection holds mainly international samples, it has a unique status as the only international coffee collection recognized by the Plant Treaty.

As the Strategy highlights, the origin and CATIE collections have been maintained under difficult conditions for decades, but they are now in great need of help. 

In fact, the first of the Strategy’s six priority actions is to secure stable funding for these four collections. The Strategy estimates that the four collections will need around USD 25 million worth of help (or approximately USD 1 million per year) to make necessary upgrades, maintain their operations and ensure their invaluable diversity is safety duplicated. 

Until these collections are securely funded, though, it’s vital that their limited resources are used to maximum effect. 

Rationalizing the International Coffee Collection

To this end, an in-depth study of CATIE’s international coffee collection was completed in 2020, identifying priority actions to ensure the long-term conservation and availability of the collection. The study was funded by the Swiss pruning and cutting tools manufacturer FELCO and commissioned by the Crop Trust

Beyond updating the status of the collection, the study also set out a series of recommendations that will help CATIE develop a comprehensive strategy for the sustainable long-term safeguarding of the collection. 

These activities include developing a database of all the relevant information on the collection, urgently rescuing the material that is most in danger of being lost, safety duplicating the historic collection of wild arabica coffee and relocating the collection to a new site at a higher altitude with better soil and drainage.

The study’s lead expert, Dr. Ehsan Dulloo, also noted that the responsibility for supporting these key conservation activities should not rest solely on the public sector, which has primarily supported such collections thus far, especially for a highly commercial crop like coffee. 

Private sector stakeholders involved in producing coffee products who (alongside the many coffee drinkers they serve) have been benefiting from access to these collections of coffee diversity are invited to take part and contribute to safeguarding the genetic basis of their business

A Global Coffee Genetic Resources Workshop 

Likewise, the Global Coffee Conservation Strategy also points to the need for greater worldwide collaboration in coffee genetic resources conservation and use. 

The next planned step to build off of the Strategy’s recommendations was to bring together representatives of the key collections, plus those of coffee breeding programs, with researchers from key stakeholder institutions, to build consensus on the priorities for action to start achieving the Strategy’s recommendations.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic intervened; but a virtual meeting finally took place, and it was worth the wait. In July 2021, worldwide stakeholders and experts came together for a four-day workshop—the first meeting of such a broad group of stakeholders to build off of the Global Coffee Conservation Strategy as well as the in-depth study of CATIE’s collection.

Keep watching this space for further details about the outcomes of the workshop and the path ahead for the conservation of global coffee genetic diversity. 

In the meantime, learn more about how you can help save your morning cup

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