The WCR Verified Program—conducted in partnership with NSF International—will certify coffee seed and nursery producers, improving the traceability and genetic purity of the plants producers purchase.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of World Coffee Research
Last week, World Coffee Research and NSF International announced the formation of the WCR Verified Program, a new global standard verification process ensuring coffee plant nurseries and seed producers produce genetically pure and healthy plants.
Previously, coffee producers have had no way of knowing that the coffee plants they purchase are genetically pure. Without these standards, producers would sometimes buy diseased or mislabeled plants, resulting in lower productivity and higher risk. “The supply chain doesn’t start with the farm, it starts with the seed,” says Hanna Neuschwander, World Coffee Research’s communications director. “The whole industry is dependent on coffee farmers being able to grow plants successfully. If the seed is bad—damaged, diseased—or turns out to be the wrong type, all the potential of that seed is squandered.”
With the new program, World Coffee Research—a collaborative research and development organization promoting the sustainability of the coffee industry—will aim to strengthen the base of the coffee supply chain by certifying the traceability and genetic purity of coffee seeds. The WCR Verified protocol will evaluate seed farms and nurseries on these criteria:
- Nursery standards, ensuring nurseries follow best practices for healthy plants
- Genetic purity, using DNA fingerprinting to be sure farmers are getting what they pay for
- Education, with nurseries providing information to help farmers make informed decisions
- Breeders’ rights, with nurseries giving proper credit to plant breeders and respecting their rights
World Coffee Research has been developing the WCR Verified Program since 2015, and turned to certifying body NSF International in 2017 to bring third-party certification into the program. “We are coffee plant experts, not certification experts,” says Hanna. “One of the core tenets of any certification program is that you want a third-party, independent organization doing the audits. That’s what NSF does. Just as importantly, they have offices in a lot of the coffee-producing countries where we hope the program will take hold.”
The program is beginning in Central America, in part because of the need in the region for renovation following the outbreak of coffee leaf rust in recent years. World Coffee Research piloted the program in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, and has already approved nurseries in those countries; additionally, any nurseries from throughout Central America and Mexico can now apply to be certified by the WCR Verified Program.
While the program is launching in Central America and Mexico, Hanna says it will be rolling out to additional countries in the near future. “The aim is for this to be not just a global program, but a completely normal part of doing business—go to a nursery, buy a seed or a plant, and just take for granted that it will be healthy and the variety you think it is,” she says. “It will take a long time for that to be the reality, but we are shooting for the stars.”
Nurseries and seed farms certified under the WCR Verified protocols are listed in an online directory here. The list is connected to World Coffee Research’s coffee variety catalog; farmers interested in sourcing varieties through the catalog can see which ones are offered by certified nurseries.
As the variety catalog and WCR Verified Program expand to other areas of coffee production, World Coffee Research hopes to offer the most comprehensive resource of information about coffee varieties to strengthen coffee producers’ position and improve the coffee industry’s future. “If every single coffee farmer in the world were able to suddenly source certified seed—like farmers of most other crops can do—global production would go up by a measurable amount,” says Hanna. “It’s a chain reaction. Everyone in the value chain loses when farmers get bad seed.”