From Central America to the World: Protecting the Future of Coffee
Crop Trust-led study will help ensure the long-term conservation and availability of the world’s only international coffee collection
The future of the global coffee industry could be found in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where some 12,000 trees representing 11 coffee species are conserved by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE). There are, of course, other collections of coffee diversity around the world – more than 50 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – and 124 coffee species, most of which have yet to be fully explored and can be found in Africa, considered the birthplace of coffee. But presently, CATIE’s collection is the only one readily available* to scientists and farmers internationally.
For the past 70 years, the coffee collection at CATIE has served the coffee industry well, especially in Central America, where all rust-resistant varieties can trace their origins to this ten-hectare field genebank. Unfortunately, the CATIE collection is at risk, due to aging trees, insufficient funding, and no backup system.
“Five years ago, our last inventory of the collection found that we’d lost more than a hundred plants, corresponding to almost 40 different varieties of coffee,” said CATIE’ William Solano, who looks after the organization’s coffee collection. “Given what’s happening to coffee diversity in the wild, if we lose an accession at a collection like CATIE’s, we could be losing it for good.”
The collection at CATIE preserves about 2,000 varieties of Arabica coffee, including some 800 wild accessions from Ethiopia and Sudan, the region of origin of this coffee species. In terms of cup quality, the Arabica coffee is considered to be the most important.
In order to address the many threats that the collection faces, the Crop Trust will lead an independent, in-depth study that will provide CATIE with a clear understanding of what they need to do to meet and maintain international standards in their conservation efforts.
The study will be funded by Swiss pruning and cutting tools manufacturer FELCO. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of its most iconic secateur – the FELCO 2 which has sold more than 16 million units worldwide. The company will release a limited series of the FELCO 2 tool, and sales proceeds of this tool will help fund the study.
“We believe that the long-term vision of the Crop Trust aligns well with FELCO's focus on quality products known for their longevity,” said Stephan Kopietzki, CCO of FELCO. “Just like the design of FELCO's products, it is crucial that the conservation of crop diversity is made to last. Crop diversity is essential for all life on Earth and should be treated as such.”
The study will provide a comprehensive assessment of the status of CATIE’s coffee diversity collection. It will examine everything from the age of trees conserved, to safety duplication practices, to past and possible future levels of demand for each type by the coffee industry. The results will be used to recommend urgent, costed actions to ensure long-term conservation and availability of the collection.
“CATIE’s Coffee Collection celebrates its 70th birthday this year, and we want to help them safeguard this diversity for the next 700,” said Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “We thank FELCO for their commitment to helping us safeguard the diversity of coffee.”
"We are pleased that a company like FELCO is stepping up to support this crucial study, and we hope that others will follow their lead,” she added. “That cup of coffee that millions of us around the world enjoy every day depends on it."
Muhammad Ibrahim, CATIE's Director General, assured the Crop Trust that CATIE remains committed to conserving the coffee genetic resources conserved in this collection, which is essential to support genetic improvement programs and to respond to everyone's needs the actors of the industry, from producers to exporters, roasters to sellers and consumers, and face the new challenges that climate change brings.
* Under the FAO’s Plant Treaty, breeders and farmers, as well as other users, can request and use this genetic diversity according to agreed rules.
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The Big Picture
This in-depth study is the first concrete step to implement the Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee Genetic Resources. Developed by the Crop Trust in collaboration with World Coffee Research (WCR), the Strategy identifies four genebanks as the key custodians of the world’s diversity of coffee. Three of these are located in Africa: in Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Madagascar. The fourth is CATIE’s International Coffee Collection. Together, they are referred to as the ‘Origin Collections’.
To secure and make available this diversity for the long term, the Crop Trust is raising USD 25 million for its endowment fund, which will provide the annual funding needed to run these genebanks in perpetuity. But to access the funds, the Origin Collections must upgrade their operations to meet international standards and share their diversity with the world.
Unlike maize, rice or wheat, coffee cannot be conserved long-term in seed form. This means so-called field genebanks must maintain multiple living trees of each of the different varieties or species. This is expensive and demands constant care. Unfortunately, many critical coffee genetic resources have already been lost, as trees have died due to lack of adequate maintenance. Many of the coffee trees conserved in the Origins Collections are aging and in need of replanting or specialized attention. Due to being so diverse, they are also in need of a wide variety of cultivation practices (for example, cultivated and wild trees differ in their needs for shade, pruning, fertilizer, etc.).
“The Crop Trust / FELCO in-depth study is the first step in what we anticipate will be a global collaboration that will benefit all those involved in the coffee industry – from small-scale producers and roasters to baristas and consumers,” said Jennifer “Vern” Long, CEO of World Coffee Research, a non-profit collaborative research and development program of the global coffee industry.
“Without access to coffee diversity, the industry won’t be able to meet the growing global demand for coffee. And ultimately, failing to conserve this diversity over the long-term will have repercussions for the tens of millions of people in Latin America, Africa and Asia who depend on coffee for their livelihoods.”
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For more information, please contact:
Luis Salazar, Crop Trust, email@example.com, +49 171 185 9490
Michèle Charpié, FELCO SA, firstname.lastname@example.org, +41 32 858 14 21
William Solano, CATIE, email@example.com, +506 2558 2134
The Crop Trust is an international organisation working to support crop conservation in genebanks, forever. Through investment income generated by its endowment fund, it provides financial support to international, regional and national genebanks, and the world’s backup facility, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The Crop Trust’s global patron is His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Learn more at www.croptrust.org.
FELCO is the global leader in pruning shears and cable cutters for professional users. Located in Les Geneveys-sur-Coffrane, the Swiss company was founded in 1945 by Félix Flisch. Today, it employs over 200 staff who help turn out more than a million hand tools and 200,000 industrial tools every year, 90% of which are exported to over 100 countries. Learn more at https://www.felco.com/.
CATIE’s International Coffee Collection
Located in Turrialba, Costa Rica, far from coffee’s center of origin, this collection consists of almost 2,000 types of domesticated and wild coffee, maintained in close rows of trees on ten hectares of land. They have been assembled over the decades from Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and all over Central America. Its history goes back to the late 1940s. Learn more at https://www.catie.ac.cr/en/.
World Coffee Research is a nonprofit collaborative research and development program of the global coffee industry to grow, protect, and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it. The program is funded and driven by the global coffee industry, guided by producers, and executed by coffee scientists around the world. Learn more at worldcoffeeresearch.org.