04/04/2017 - Article
Agroforestry is one way of adapting coffee production to climate change, but few varieties are suitable. BREEDCAFS, a new project led by CIRAD and funded by the EU H2020 programme, aims to diversify the range of varieties available for this more sustainable production method. Two European roasters will be involved in choosing varieties over the course of the project, which is due to begin in April. They will be put in contact with coffee growers practising agroforestry in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Vietnam and Cameroon.
Europe, the world's largest coffee consumer, is worried about the long-term threat to supplies as a result of climate change. Two of its roasters (Illy Caffe Italy and Arvid Nordquist) responded positively to an invitation from two CIRAD researchers to participate in a research project funded by the H2020 programme, BREEDing Coffee for AgroForestry Systems (BREEDCAFS). "This four-year project aims to adapter varietal breeding strategies to the more sustainable cropping practices used in agroforestry systems. This includes shading the coffee trees, and also reducing the use of certain inputs, such as fertilizers", says CIRAD's Benoît Bertrand, who is coordinating BREEDCAFS.
Twenty partners* in all - European and US universities - along with these private players, have signed up to this project led by CIRAD, in collaboration with the IRD, and research organizations and professionals in the coffee-growing countries concerned (Cameroon, Nicaragua and Vietnam). "New hybrid varieties developed by CIRAD and its partners (Promecafe-CATIE ECOM and WRC) will be tested in line with several for temperature rise and CO2 scenarios, and under various water and light regimes, in Montpellier, Lisbon, Nicaragua, Cameroon and Vietnam" , Benoît Bertrand adds. "The idea is to determine the molecular mechanisms of adaptation to agroforestry and pinpoint candidate genes for breeding highly productive varieties suited to agroforestry."
Those varieties will be released to agroforestry clusters that directly link coffee roasters and producers. The aim is to develop a new concept of supplying 100% traceable, quality coffee produced in agroforestry systems that is carbon-neutral and for which producers are paid a fair price. Two clusters are to be tested over the four years in Vietnam and Cameroon, along the lines of a prototype developed on 1300 ha of agroforest in Nicaragua. That cluster, operated by Nicafrance and funded by Moringa Partnership, concerns 30 medium- and 50 small-scale producers.
At present, of the 50 countries that produce coffee, only Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia and Tanzania are capable of providing their growers with quality varieties (in seed form). Those varieties were bred for intensive production systems. However, "the farmers who grow coffee in agroforestry systems (more than 60% of the are Under Arabica coffee worldwide) are mostly smallholders who do not have access to quality planting material suited to the specific constraints of this type of systems", Benoît Bertrand explains. "As a result, we are keen to re-think global governance of coffee varietal improvement operations, in conjunction with World Coffee Research." The aim is to establish mechanisms to promote, disseminate and share new varieties suite to agroforestry.
The BREEDCAFS project has a budget of 4.5 million euros, and will be completed in 2021. The expected results include: new tools for breeders, to facilitate varietal screening in agroforestry systems, new varietal improvement programmes and agroforestry clusters involving farmers and roasters, and new varieties assessed for their performance and quality, tailored to the conditions in agroforestry systems and to climate change.
*BREEDCAF project partners: