Called Innovea, the network will aim to secure long-term supplies of coffee and improve climate resilience through breeding.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of World Coffee Research
The news: WCR has launched Innovea, a global breeding network of nine countries that will “transform global coffee breeding and accelerate the pace of genetic improvement,” per a press release from WCR. They chose the Innovea name by combining “innovation” with Coffea, the plant name of the coffee species, so the name loosely translates to “coffee innovation.”
“Coffee faces a crisis of innovation that makes the industry’s sustainability, quality, and supply assurance goals impossible to achieve if we stay on the path we are on,” says WCR CEO Dr. Jennifer (Vern) Long in the press release. “But as we have seen with COVID-19, incredible solutions to urgent, global problems are made possible with scientific collaboration.”
‘Coopetition’ Not Competition
Collaboration is indeed the name of the game for the Innovea network. Dr. George Kotch, WCR’s former research director, has decades of experience managing global breeding programs. He joined WCR in 2020 and knew he faced a challenge in shaping the new network: Coffee-producing countries are competing with one another, and asking them to collaborate on a breeding network is not an easy sell.
The resulting solution is a “coopetition” model—which Dr. Kotch developed using his experience with other commodities—that allows producing countries to collaborate on breeding but remain competitive overall. “We listened really carefully to our partners who communicated this reality that they face, which is that scientific collaboration sounds like a great aspiration, but it’s not always a realistic opportunity for them,” Dr. Long says in an interview with Barista Magazine Online. “And so this model is really designed to drive value for countries but also allow them to be competitive.”
So what will the new network offer participating countries? According to the WCR press release, the network will give them “unrestricted access to new genetic materials, training in modern breeding approaches, and shared tools while also connecting researchers across national boundaries to achieve results that would be impossible for programs working in isolation.”
The opportunities afforded by the network may be transformative for producing countries. “The network brings together a wide diversity of high-performing varieties from Africa, Asia, and the Americas that have never been bred together before,” says Dr. Senthil Kumar, director of research at the Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI), in the press release. “India is enthusiastic about the opportunities this network provides for us to develop varieties that address farmers’ needs and to ensure our success in achieving climate resilience.”
The new network will strengthen not just coffee producers, of course. The whole coffee supply chain stands to benefit from improved varieties—including specialty-coffee roasters, whose businesses depend on reliable supplies of high-quality coffee. James McLaughlin, president and CEO of Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee and the current vice chair of WCR’s board, says, “I think that Innovea is the single most exciting thing happening in coffee right now. We as an industry have under-invested in coffee agricultural research, and the threats that our industry is facing with climate change are really grave.” With the new network, James explains, “I believe we’re going to produce varieties that are next level in terms of quality, productivity, and climate resistance.”
Though the network is now in motion, the results will not be immediate, as breeding programs take time. WCR estimates that some countries in the network could release new varieties as early as 2033, though most will take several more years.
You can find more about the new Innovea network here.