Global Crop Diversity Trust Partners with World Coffee Research

A coffee breeder holds coffee cherries from a tree in the CATIE field gene bank. The unique genetics of these cherries can be tapped for solutions to problems like diseases and drought tolerance. But when a rare tree dies, its unique genetics are lost forever.

In an effort to protect coffee’s diversity, World Coffee Research and the Global Crop Diversity Trust have partnered

BY HANNA NEUSCHWANDER
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
In the current  issue of Barista Magazine [April+May 2016 ”read it online for free by clicking here], I wrote about how coffee’s lack of genetic diversity endangers the future of the entire industry. One of the key problems isn’t just that coffee itself lacks diversity, it’s that the diversity we do have isn’t well protected. Imagine you had only a little money, and to conserve it you decided to put in a bank. But then you found out that the paper the money is printed on melts above a certain temperature. And climate change.
Global Crop Diversity Trust Partners with World Coffee Research
Hanna’s story about coffee genetics in the April+May 2016 issue of Barista Magazine.

That’s the situation coffee is in. Coffee’s genetic resources are stored in gene banks, usually collections of living trees called field gene banks (you can read a Field Report in Barista Mag’s February+March 2016 issue online about one of the most important genebanks in the world, at CATIE in Costa Rica). The world’s gene banks for coffee are threatened.  Field genebanks are expensive to manage, and so many critical coffee genetic resources have already been lost as trees die for lack of care and maintenance. But, rising temperatures and droughts are putting additional pressure on these essential assets. Once a tree dies, if there is no duplicate, it’s unique genetics are lost forever.  

Which is why I’m so excited about  a new partnership  that World Coffee Research is embarking on with the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust), to devise a strategy to protect coffee’s most important genetic resources in perpetuity.  

Global Crop Diversity Trust Partners with World Coffee Research
Dr. Sarada Krishnan, Director of Horticulture & Center for Global Initiatives at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and the leader of the project for WCR and Crop Trust. “Before it is too late, we need to address the preservation of these genetic resources through multi-national collaboration.”

The global crop conservation strategy for coffee is an opportunity to review the history of the world’s coffee collections ”stored in multiple field genebanks and in native forests around the world ”and assess the challenges that coffee and its genetic resources face.


Why does any of this matter? Gene banks are reservoirs of plant material that hold the key to the future. Plant breeders need access to the widest possible crop diversity to continuously develop new varieties of coffee. œYour morning coffee depends on the genetic diversity needed to adapt the coffee plant to changing environments,  said Dr. Tim Schilling, CEO of World Coffee Research.   œWithout genetic diversity, coffee will not be able to withstand the numerous stresses that accompany climate change and that are happening right now.   

The arrival of a new pest threat, for example, will inevitably send agronomists searching through gene bank collections for pest-resistant seeds ”often, only a handful of seeds may have the needed trait.
Global Crop Diversity Trust Partners with World Coffee Research
A coffee breeder holds coffee cherries from a tree in the CATIE field gene bank. The unique genetics of these cherries can be tapped for solutions to problems like diseases and drought tolerance. But when a rare tree dies, its unique genetics are lost forever.
The Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee will identify high priority actions that need to be taken. And, because maintaining these collections isn’t cheap, it will seek to ensure commitment by the coffee community to invest in conservation, thereby securing the long-term availability of coffee.

WCR’s partner in this project, the Crop Trust, facilitates the availability of seed varieties for all under the  International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which came into force in 2004  with a multifaceted approach, including an œeffective, efficient global system at the core of its efforts to conserve and use crop diversity for food security.  They also back up seeds from nearly every country, beneath the arctic permafrost and œagainst an uncertain future.  It’s what they call œa 10,000 year legacy that we can’t leave to chance. 

If you’re interested in learning more about World Coffee Research’s work to ensure the future of coffee, you can visit our website  here. You can learn more about Crop Trust’s work to preserve the genetic resources of other crops  here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hanna Neuschwander
Hanna Neuschwander is director of communications for World Coffee Research. She has been communicating about coffee and science since 2004. Her writing has appeared in publications including Travel + Leisure, The Art of Eating, Portland Monthly, and Modern Farmer, among others. She is the author of Left Coast Roast, a guidebook to artisan and influential coffee roasters on the west coast. She is based in Portland, Oregon.
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