World Coffee Research publishes its first Robusta Variety Catalog

With Arabica continually under threat due to effects of climate change, the spotlight is on Robusta as the coffee industry searches for new opportunities for growth and market differentiation. At the 2022 Brazil International Coffee Week or Semana Internacional do Café (SIC), for example, several booths featured producers who were presenting wonderful specialty Robusta coffees, especially those from Rondônia in the Amazon (which are being produced by Indigenous people). 

So as the coffee industry looks for solutions to meet the growing challenges of the climate crisis, World Coffee Research (WCR) has taken an important step by publishing its first Robusta Variety Catalog to help Robusta farmers make informed decisions about varieties. 

The catalogue, which is available in English and Spanish, profiles 47 Robusta varieties – from origins such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, and Vietnam – using 20+ variables, like yield potential, stature, bean size, nutrition requirements, lineage, susceptibility to pests/diseases, among others. 

With Robusta’s growing prevalence in the global market, WCR hopes the catalogue will lower the risk associated with coffee farming by providing direct information to enable farmers and other planting decision-makers to make an informed choice about what varieties will grow best in particular environments. “The catalogue is a critical new resource to fill the information gap that exists in our industry regarding Robusta coffee,” said Hanna Neuschwander, WCR’s strategy and communications director. 

With the life of a coffee tree being 20 to 30 years, the decision farmers make about which variety to plant has long-term consequences. If a farmer makes an uninformed decision on variety, the cumulative loss can be huge. Comparatively, if a farmer makes the right decision, the cumulative gain can be significant. For instance, WCR explains that a Robusta farmer in Uganda who successfully cultivates a healthy Coffee Wilt Disease resistant (CWD-r) plant can earn 250% more than a farmer who plants a susceptible, unhealthy plant. (Uganda has an ambitious plan to increase its coffee exports, including Robusta within five years. Uganda’s current coffee exports are around USD $627 million annually, with the goal in five years being $1.5 billion — a 28% increase.) 

WCR noted that most Robusta farmers in particular do not have access to transparent information about available varieties and how they differ. Robusta farmers typically sell into lower-value markets where variety differentiation is nonexistent. In addition, Robusta requires more than one variety and simultaneous flowering for successful pollination. Because of this, farmers must cultivate a mix of complementary clones to enhance fruit production and quality. These mixtures, which typically comprise officially-released commercial varieties, are often distributed to farmers with minimal transparency about what clones are included in the mix and their unique properties. The lack of up-to-date variety information puts farmers at risk and perpetuates low yields around the globe. 

“WCR [works] to empower farmers by making tools available to choose the right varieties for their farms and their markets — varieties that deliver high yield and better-tasting coffee in the long term,” said WCR’s CEO Dr Jennifer ‘Vern’ Long in a statement. “And now that Robusta comprises 40 percent of the coffee produced and marketed globally, we saw the need to support farmers by creating this tool.” 

The Robusta catalogue was generated through collaborative sourcing of data about varieties from breeders and other experts. The varieties in the Robusta catalogue were selected for inclusion because of their economic, historical, cultural, or genetic importance. Even so, significant gaps in data for many Robusta varieties remain. The genetic diversity of Robusta coffee is also much larger than that of Arabica, and it is only just beginning to be explored by breeders and the industry at large. The catalogue does not aim to represent an exhaustive list of all coffee varieties in existence. 

Alongside the detailed variety profiles, users can find a consolidated and peer-reviewed history of Robusta as a species, which tracks it from its origins in central and western sub-Saharan Africa through its dispersal across Asia and Latin America to its cultivation today. In addition, the history provides a brief overview of the genetic diversity and conservation of Robusta to provide readers the opportunity to better understand how well-differentiated the various populations of this species are. Users are also able to filter different variables, such as yield potential, country of release, etc.  

The Robusta resource serves as an expansion of WCR’s Arabica Variety Catalog, which was launched in 2016 and profiles Arabica varieties from around the world. 

The Robusta and Arabica catalogues can be accessed here. 

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