The nonprofit World Coffee Research is dramatically shifting its operational focus, increasing investments in breeding and nursery/seed development while moving away from on-farm coffee variety trials.
Technically, the organization this month officially shut down its Global Coffee Monitoring Program, which has involved a global network of on-farm coffee variety trials.
“The big picture trend is to really have a laser focus on our main area of strength: improving and modernizing variety innovation systems for the benefit of farmers and the industry at large,” World Coffee Research Strategy and Communications Director Hanna Neuschwander told Daily Coffee News. “Operationally, this looks like decreasing allocation of funds to trials and increasing investments in nurseries and breeding, while maintaining a few key trials where return on investment is high.”
In an announcement of the Global Coffee Monitoring Program closing, WCR said that trials will remain active in four countries — Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, and Democratic Republic of Congo — while national research institutions or local organizations have plans to continue operating trial plots in other countries.
The program was initially launched in 2016 with a 10-year, $18 million scope. The decision to end the program was made following a 2020 consultation involving 135 interviews and nearly 900 surveys with global stakeholders throughout the coffee value chain that resulted in a new 2021-2025 strategy for WCR.
In 2020, WCR spent 50% of its revenue on coffee variety trials programming, which involves monitoring the performance of coffee varieties in different real-world conditions on partnering coffee farms. In 2021, that share will decrease to approximately 36%, with more revenue diverted to plant breeding and seed development work, Neuschwander told DCN.
Beginning next year, the group plans to formally roll out a global breeding network that will involve many of the world’s major national coffee institutes and research agencies. That program follows steady increases in membership and revenue for WCR over the past five years.
The nonprofit now counts 220 annual member companies — with heavy representation from coffee roasters and green coffee trading companies — up from 107 in 2017.
In the announcement of the GCMP closure, WCR said that the decision to invest more heavily in breeding and nursery development is designed to provide more near-term impact for coffee producers.
“The best time to plant a tree — or start a breeding program — was 20 years ago,” WCR CEO Vern Long said in the announcement. “The second best time is today. As a science organization, we believe in learning from the evidence. In this case, the evidence was clear that there is tremendous urgency to accelerate and deepen our support of breeding and nursery programs. So that’s what we’re doing.”