World Coffee Research releases new Robusta variety catalogue
Robusta farmers have a new open-access resource at their fingertips—World Coffee Research’s (WCR) Robusta Variety Catalog. 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, and many more. The catalogue is hosted alongside WCR’s existing Arabica Varieties Catalog on the interactive website varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org.
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.
Since the life of a coffee tree is 20-30 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 example, 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.
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 mixt 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.
This resource serves as an expansion of WCR’s popular Arabica Variety Catalog, which was launched in 2016 and profiles arabica varieties from around the world. At the time of its release, the arabica catalogue was a first-of-its-kind resource and the only global compendium of information about available coffee varieties for farmers, buyers, and roasters. The resource has been viewed over one million times since its launch and, as a living document, continues to support WCR’s goal to improve the availability and accessibility of improved planting material for farmers around the world.
Until recently, arabica held reign over most of the coffee market due to preferences for its beverage quality, but various factors, including the increasing demand and climate pressure for farmers, have led to expansions in the production of robusta.
“Since our founding over ten years ago, WCR has worked 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 chief executive officer Dr Jennifer “Vern” Long. “And, now that robusta comprises 40% 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, including the Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI), the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), the National Coffee Research Institute of Uganda (NaCORI-Uganda), the Western Highlands Agroforestry Science Institute (WASI), and Nestlé’s Research Center. 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, therefore, 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.
The interactive catalogue website features the ability to filter on different variables, such as yield potential, country of release, and more. It also includes the ability to generate a unique, customisable PDF with the varieties of the user’s choice, and a new visualisation of the genetic groups of the included varieties. Both the arabica and robusta catalogues are shared via Creative Commons licenses that make them available for free distribution worldwide.
The robusta and arabica catalogues can be accessed free of cost at varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org.