Coffee Research

Development of the Global Coffee Conservation Strategy

Coffee, the beverage that kick starts the day for millions of us and provides a livelihood for an estimated 125 million people in developing countries, is impacted by numerous biotic and abiotic threats. Critical amongst them are climate change and the lack of genetic diversity of coffee.

To address this and to preserve the crop for the future, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and World Coffee Research partnered to develop a global coffee conservation strategy. As a coffee expert, through Denver Botanic Gardens’ Center for Global Initiatives, Dr. Sarada Krishnan (past Director of Horticulture and Center for Global Initiatives) was contracted by World Coffee Research to serve as the lead scientist in developing this strategy.

The main objectives of the project are to:

  • Develop a current understanding of the status of the major coffee collections held as ex situ collections in field genebanks in producing countries
  • Develop an understanding of the major gaps in these collections and their conservation
  • Develop an understanding of in situ conservation of coffee germplasm and its wild relatives
  • Develop an understanding of the use of these germplasm collections
  • Develop a global conservation strategy for the secure conservation of coffee and ensure its use for the long term
  • Identify high priority actions needed to be taken and ensure commitment by the coffee industry to invest in these actions, securing the long-term conservation of globally available coffee germplasm through the Crop Trust’s Crop Diversity Endowment Fund

To achieve this, a survey was sent to 31 coffee genebanks around the world which resulted in 50 percent participation. Following the survey, field visits were conducted to seven major coffee genebanks holding about 80 percent of all coffee accessions in Brazil, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya and Madagascar.

Based on these findings, the strategy was developed which identifies six high priority action items. This strategy will be key in preserving coffee genetic resources thereby providing a roadmap for the future sustainability of the crop and the livelihoods dependent on it.

In 2020, through funding from USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the collaborators hosted a workshop in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire to bring all the key stakeholders together and identify steps to implement the strategy.  

Collaboration on the InSPIRE-Puerto Rico Coffee / Solar Co-Location Project

The collaborating partners in this project include National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), El Laboratorio, Colorado State University and Hyperion Systems LLC. The research project will study the feasibility of using solar panels as shade for coffee, while at the same time providing energy to the farms. Effected by Hurricane Maria and the recent earthquakes, if this project is successful, this will provide a sustainable system for growing coffee and providing energy on the farm.

South Sudan: Survey of Arabica Coffee in the Boma Plateau

In 2012, Dr. Sarada Krishnan was invited to serve on the scientific team to conduct an expedition to South Sudan, led by the World Coffee Research of the Norman Borlaug Institute of the Texas A & M University. The Boma Plateau in South Sudan along with Ethiopia is considered to be a center of diversity of Coffea arabica (Arabica coffee) Populations of wild coffee were documented in the forests of Upper Boma in the 1940s.

The main purpose of this expedition was to visit the forests to ascertain presence of these populations and collect material to assess genetic diversity with a future goal of establishing a commercial coffee sector in South Sudan. Coffee populations, both wild and cultivated, were collected, totaling 74 accessions of coffee leaf samples. Genetic studies were performed at the Garden’s Conservation Genetics laboratory and a report was submitted to World Coffee Research outlining a strategy for collecting and establishing a field gene bank in Upper Boma.

The South Sudan coffee research is now published.

Genetic Characterization of Geisha Coffee from Panama and Ethiopia

The Geisha variety (C. arabica var. Geisha) was first discovered in the forested mountains of western Ethiopia (provinces of Maji and Goldija) in the 1930s. It was first brought to Panama from Costa Rica in 1963 after first journeying through Tanzania and Kenya.

Displaying unique flavor profiles, larger bean size and other phenotypic differences from other C. arabica varieties, Geisha also exhibits resistance to coffee leaf rust (Hemileia vastatrix Berkeley and Broome). Coffee leaf rust has led to crop devastation in many countries. Taking economics and the minimization of chemical input into consideration, the most viable option is the development and cultivation of tolerant varieties. Geisha coffee can play an important role in future breeding programs for crop improvement to confer disease resistance and improve cup quality.

The specific research objective of this study conducted in 2013 was to understand the genetic differences between the Geisha coffee grown in Panama and that from the original forests in Ethiopia.

From Colorado Public Radio:

Most Wild Coffee Varieties Face Extinction. Here’s What That Means For Your Morning Cup

Wild coffee is slowly dying off. The culprits? Climate change, deforestation and development have thrust 60 percent of wild coffee species to the precipice of extinction, some within the next 10 or 20 years. The two coffee varieties cultivated for consumption—robusta and arabica—are not at the same level of risk but may still feel the pinch.

Learn More

From Crop Trust:

Talkin’ Coffee Conservation & Use: Q&A with Sarada Krishnan

Sarada Krishnan is, by all accounts, a renowned coffee genetic resources expert, and as such, one of the main authors of the Global Conservation Strategy for Coffee Genetic Resources, an effort the Crop Trust carried out in conjunction with World Coffee Research (WCR) in 2017.

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From WBEZ Public Radio:

Is coffee endangered?

WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s monthly EcoMyths “What the Plant?” segment features Dr. Sarada Krishnan as she proves that indeed, coffee is endangered.

Learn More and Hear the Podcast

From BBC Radio:

Are we living in a golden age of coffee?

Dan Saladino, producer of The Food Programme, journeys into coffee's past, present and future. He speaks with Dr. Sarada Krishnan about her international research and conservation projects. Throughout the program, Saladino finds that things are more precarious than they may seem.

Learn More and Hear the Podcast

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