World Coffee Research (WCR) has published the first ever catalogue of coffee varieties for Central America. ‘Coffee Varieties of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean’ was launched at Re:Co Dublin on June 22. Catalogues for other parts of the world are expected to be produced in due course.
“Not only do most farmers have very few choices about what varieties are available to them, they have very, very little information about the differences among varieties. Many farmers don’t even know what varieties they have,” said Hanna Neuschwander, Communications Director at WCR. “This is extremely problematic in the face of challenges like the recent Central American coffee leaf rust epidemic, where a farmer may not know whether a plant he is buying is resistant to rust or other diseases, what its quality potential is, or whether it’s well adapted for his altitude.
“Because the life of a coffee tree is 20-30 years, the decision producers make about which variety to plant will have consequences until the next generation. The lack of a comprehensive, up-to-date coffee catalogue puts farmers at risk. This catalogue brings urgently needed information to coffee farmers to help them decide which coffee is best for their situation.
“Coffee producers who make good planting decisions are at much less risk from disease or pests. Choosing the right type of coffee also has consequences for quality in the cup. Planting coffee that is well-adapted to the local environment is one critical factor in ensuring the highest possible quality.
“The coffee leaf rust crisis of 2012 affected nearly 600,000 thousand acres of Central American coffee farms,” she explained. “Nearly 300,000 coffee farmers need to replant coffee because of it. To make the best possible decision about what kind of coffee to plant on a farm, producers need to know which varieties will be best adapted to their locations and farming approaches. This, ultimately, is the reason the catalogue was created. It is based on interviews with 170+ experts throughout Central America and has been reviewed by all the national institutes in the region.”
A print version in Spanish will be distributed throughout Promecafe countries to tecnicos, nursery managers, and others, about 10,000 in all. PDFs in English and Spanish will be available for free download on the WCR website.
WCR is releasing the catalogue under a creative commons CC BY-NC-ND licence to encourage widespread use and dissemination. Importer, roasters, NGOs or other groups working with farmers are encouraged to download and distribute it. An interactive online version is available in English and Spanish.
The most important varieties used in the region are included. The catalogue includes their genetic groupings, which were confirmed by a genetic diversity analysis done by WCR last year. “In a couple of cases this analysis has revealed new information about varieties,” she explained. “For example, it was commonly believed that Java was a Typica derivative, but WCR’s analysis showed it was much more closely related to Ethiopian landraces like Geisha, so we have grouped it accordingly.
“The catalogue also includes Geisha (Panama) as a distinct variety. Our genetic analysis established that the Geisha variety historically cultivated in Panama (introduced to Panama from CATIE in Costa Rica in 1963 by Francisco Serracin, better known as Don Pachi) corresponds to CATIE accession T02722 (arrived to CATIE from a research station in Tanzania, label accession VC 496, and before that from Ethiopia). There are a lot of coffees out there labelled as Geisha, but only some of them match the genetics/phenotypic presentation of the 2722 group. This is, as we understand it, the first time anyone has confirmed the distinct genetics of this coffee.”