How Science Is Protecting the Future of Coffee

A considerable amount of dedication and hard work goes on behind the scenes long before coffee ever reaches the shelves of your local supermarket or favorite neighborhood shop. Coffee is an international crop that requires mostly small farmers around the world to navigate a huge range of ever-growing challenges — including changing climate patterns.

To help overcome those challenges and ensure that farmers thrive and consumers continue to have access to the coffee they love, the global coffee industry joined forces in 2012 to form World Coffee Research, a nonprofit organization working to ensure the future of coffee.

World Coffee Research operates in 27 countries to further its mission to grow, protect and enhance supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of the families who produce it. Community Coffee Company has been a strong supporter of the organization since its inception. Matt Saurage, Community Coffee chairman, is a founding board member of the group.

Here is a look at some of the initiatives the global organization is undertaking to improve coffee yields, coffee quality, climate resilience and the livelihoods of farmers who make the coffee we love possible.

Climate Change Initiatives

Research shows that a changing climate poses the greatest threat to the future of coffee. Changing weather patterns, increased temperatures and higher rates of disease and insects could create a potentially disastrous decline in the supply of coffee in the coming decades. Today, nearly half of current coffee production comes from countries predicted to lose more than 60 percent of their suitable coffee areas by 2050.

WCR is leading the charge in research to help farmers prepare for these climate challenges by investing in advances in agricultural science, such as breeding programs and the establishment of research centers in coffee-producing regions around the world.

International Research Centers

In its first five years, WCR has built an unprecedented international network of research trials to dramatically increase the amount of valuable data collected on coffee varieties and farming techniques. The organization’s network is testing variety performance and agricultural approaches for climate resilience and tracking the movement of coffee disease and pests that can damage crops, while also building new research capacity with its partners in coffee-producing countries.

WCR has field trials in place in 21 countries, many of which have have already paid off. Last year, for example, a trial yielded the discovery that several hybrid varieties are tolerant to frost. The varieties were created in Central America, which typically does not experience frost, so this tolerance was previously unknown. The finding could open up new opportunities for production in certain climates.

Better Plants for Farmers

In its first five years, WCR has developed 60 new coffee varieties, two global breeding hubs, as well as an international network of research trials to test the performance of these new varieties.

But breeding is only part of the organization’s mission. The most resilient and high-performing varieties in the world are useless if they are not available to the farmers who need them — and currently most of the world’s farmers do not have access to improved varieties.

WCR is spearheading programs aimed at expanding information about and access to high-quality varieties around the world, through partnerships with both the public and private sectors.

Among the initiatives is a catalog of major coffee varieties that connects to a database of certified nurseries that can provide healthy, genetically pure plants for each variety. The organization is also creating an international seed exchange of some of the top-performing varieties in the world to allow farmers in different countries to test new varieties.

It’s all part of the coffee industry’s growing effort to ensure the future of coffee in the face of a changing climate and other emerging challenges.