WCR Varieties Catalogue Goes Global
World Coffee Research (WCR) has launched a major update to its Arabica Coffee Varieties catalogue, expanding it to include varieties from six new countries: Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The catalog previously only covered varieties commonly found in and around Central America.
The updated catalogue contains 53 total varieties, with expanded histories for many of them. The updated version introduces the following varieties: Bourbon Mayaguez 139, Bourbon Mayaguez 71, Jackson 2/1257, K7, KP423, SL28, Harrar Rwanda, Mibirizi, Nyasaland, Pop3303/21, SL14, SL34, Catimor 129, Batian, RAB C15, and Ruiru 11.
The catalogue presents a breadth of information on each variety, from its appearance and key agronomic traits to its genetic background and intellectual property rights. “We’re very proud to be expanding the catalog to include six African countries,” says Christophe Montagnon, scientific director at WCR and lead author on the catalogue. “The catalogue is a living document, and as we continue to expand its global reach, we hope it supports more farmers in one of the most difficult and important decisions they make for the long-term sustainability of their farms.”
The varieties catalogue also includes information on which varieties are currently available through the World Coffee Research Verified programme, which certifies coffee seed and nursery producers to improve the healthy, traceability and genetic purity of coffee plants. (The programme is currently available in Central America.)
Knowledge of the genetic diversity of coffee is constantly improving. For this new edition of the Arabica Coffee Varieties catalogue, WCR includes some substantive updates based on new analysis of our DNA database, including the insight that there are in fact Typica and Bourbon “genetic groups,” to which the distinct Typica and Bourbon varieties belong (for example: SL28 is in the Bourbon group, but not the same as the Bourbon variety; SL34 and SL14 belong to the Typica group but are not the same as the Typica variety). The varieties in each group are genetically similar, like cousins, but they are not the same.
The groups of Typica and Bourbon originate from small, related populations that travelled from Ethiopia, to Yemen, and then to India. With each major geographical movement, often only one or a small handful of seeds from each group was taken to new places, resulting in “genetic bottlenecking” (the severe reduction of genetic diversity), leading to the emergence of the individual Bourbon and Typica varieties. For example, after the Typica group was introduced to Indonesia from India, a single coffee plant was taken in 1706 from Java to Amsterdam and given a home in the botanical gardens.
This single plant gave rise to the Typica variety (just one variety among many in the Typica genetic group) that colonised the Americas during the 18th century. But diverse populations of the Typica group remained in India, and from there made their way to Africa. Thus, in Africa today, there are many Typica-related varieties (such as SL34 and SL14) that are nevertheless distinct from the unique Typica variety that became dominant in Latin America in the 1800s.
The expanded Arabica Coffee Varieties catalogue includes an updated introduction with a detailed history of the Bourbon and Typica genetic groups. The expanded catalogue also includes revised information on the genetic groups for some varieties, confirmed through WCR DNA fingerprinting:
• Testing has confirmed that the SL34 and SL14 varieties – which were previously thought to descend from Bourbon – are actually from the Typica genetic group.
• DNA fingerprinting has shown that old Indian varieties known as Coorg and Kent are part of the Bourbon genetic group, and not Typica as was thought. This indicates the first seeds sent out of Yemen to India by Baba Budan in 1670 likely included both the Bourbon and Typica groups, and not only Typica as was previously thought. This may mean the Typica branch separated from Bourbon when the Dutch brought seeds in 1696 and 1699 from India (not from Yemen, as is often told).
The catalogue supports broader efforts by WCR and its partners in Central America – and now Africa – to reimagine a coffee sector such that all farmers have access to healthy coffee plants and the tools to make good planting decisions in support of their goals.
To create the varieties catalogue, WCR worked with coffee experts from across Central America and Africa, with funding from USAID and UTZ/Rainforest Alliance. The catalogue is the result of visits to 16 countries and interviews with nearly 180 people from more than 100 private and public bodies involved in the national or regional coffee sectors of Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
An interactive version of the catalogue is available online.
PDF copies are free for anyone to download and print here.