World Coffee Research launches Innovea Global Coffee Breeding Network to accelerate climate resilience and secure long-term coffee supplies

World Coffee Research has announced the formation of Innovea, a global coffee breeding network. Innovea brings together collaborating countries to transform global coffee breeding and accelerate the pace of coffee genetic improvement.

The announcement was made by World Coffee Research at the annual Sintercafe coffee expo in Costa Rica, accompanied by coffee roasters funding the program and some of the countries that plan to take part in the breeding network. World Coffee Research has welcomed participation from nine countries: Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, and the United States. The network will expand for other interested countries to join in the future.

The Innovea network is funded by over 200 coffee companies around the world that comprise WCR’s membership. The network builds on a decade of groundwork laid by World Coffee Research to drive science-based agricultural solutions to urgently secure a diverse and sustainable supply of quality coffee.

“Agricultural science is critical for securing the global supply of high-quality coffee in the face of the climate crisis,” says Jim Trout, chair of WCR’s board of directors and head of Coffee R&D for J.M. Smucker, the maker of Folgers. “WCR created this network because roasters know we can’t wait another day.”

“Coffee faces a crisis of innovation that makes the industry’s sustainability, quality, and supply assurance goals impossible to achieve if we stay on the path we are on,” says WCR CEO Dr. Jennifer (Vern) Long. “But as we have seen with Covid-19, incredible solutions to urgent, global problems are made possible with scientific collaboration. ”

“With this network we will be able to achieve results that would not be possible conducting breeding within the borders of a single country. Costa Rica is very excited to participate. It will allow us to develop more and better varieties and make them available to farmers faster,” says Xinia Chaves Quiros, director, ICAFE Costa Rica.

Innovea’s unique collaborative design provides tremendous value to countries to enable them to tackle the challenges of climate change together while maintaining their individual competitive positions. The network gives participating countries unrestricted access to new genetic materials, training in modern breeding approaches, and shared tools while also connecting researchers across national boundaries to achieve results that would be impossible for programs working in isolation. At the same time, it leaves coffee producing countries in the driver’s seat for finished variety development and release and provides avenues for countries to connect with roasters and buyers to ensure that new varieties are tailored for market demand.

Through the network, WCR will create new, improved breeding populations using modern genomic selection approaches that countries can use without restrictions on their use. Depending on the performance of the material, some countries could release new varieties as early as 2033, although most will take several more years. (Because coffee is a tree crop, the breeding process can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years for finished variety development, depending on the breeding approach used). After that, new varieties can be released in a country as often as every 3-5 years.

“The network brings together a wide diversity of high-performing varieties from Africa, Asia, and the Americas that have never been bred together before,” says Dr. Senthil Kumar, director of research, Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI). “India is enthusiastic about the opportunities this network provides for us to develop varieties that address farmers’ needs and to ensure our success in achieving climate resilience.”

To date, two technical workshops of participating countries have taken place (the first in Rwanda in August 2022, and a second this week in Costa Rica), and the first crosses for the network have already been made. Those plants will be distributed to network partners for evaluation in 2023, and subsequent improved crosses will be made every six years. The first cycle of crosses were designed to bring together high-priority traits such as yield, disease resistance, and cup quality. In the next two decades, multiple countries will have a basket of improved varieties that are more productive and climate resilient, better tasting, and more diverse than all of today’s current varieties.

“Accelerating the development of better varieties is absolutely essential for tackling climate change,” says Dr. Long. “We have to do it and we have to start today. If we don’t, in 20 years, farmers will have left coffee for more productive crops and we will be left drinking synthetic coffee.”

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