October 1, 2021. Coffee is one of the most economically important agricultural products worldwide, generating annual revenues of more than USD 15 billion for exporting countries and providing a source of direct employment for more than 20 million people in the world. After water it is the most consumed beverage in the world, close to 2.5 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily. In Latin America there are around 14 million people related to its productive chain.
In Central America, coffee production represents one of the main agricultural export crops. According to data from PROMECAFE, approximately 5 million people depend directly on coffee production in the region, where close to 11% of the coffee exported worldwide is produced. In addition, coffee plantations generate important environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, the production of clean water and contributions to the conservation of biodiversity.
In the case of Costa Rica, the Foreign Trade Promotion Agency (PROCOMER, its Spanish acronym) has indicated that the coffee subsector generated USD 322,539,696 in foreign exchange for the country in the 2019-2020 coffee year (Oct-Set), 2.8% higher than in the previous period.
It is for all these reasons that the National Coffee Day, to be commemorated next October 1st, should not be overlooked. "This celebration should be a reason to recognize and thank effusively all those involved in the coffee value chain, producers, processors, exporters and roasters of the country, whose efforts have contributed to maintain the sustainability of the sector for more than two centuries; as well as to publicize the efforts that institutions, such as CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) and others, make to strengthen coffee growing and ensure that we continue to have coffee in the future", said William Solano, specialist in plant genetic resources of CATIE.
CATIE, an international center located in Turrialba, Costa Rica, has had for more than 70 years an International Coffee Collection that houses and conserves coffee plants from different parts of the world with varied characteristics, which have been the basis for producing new varieties of coffee (F1 hybrids), which have been recognized for their high productivity (between 30 and 50% more than traditional varieties), good cup quality and resistance to diseases such as rust, thus giving rise to what is considered to be the coffee of the future.
This collection includes materials brought in from more than 35 countries around the world, including Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, Kenya and Portugal.
The F1 hybrids were developed between CATIE, CIRAD and PROMECAFE, and with the participation of Central American coffee institutes; one of them won Cup of Excellence in Costa Rica in 2016 and for several years they have been in the hands of producers in the region, it is estimated that about 20 million plants have been distributed.
Recently, private companies, such as Felco and San Francisco Bay Coffee, have developed alliances with CATIE to support coffee conservation and research; for example, they have donated tools and pruning equipment for the agronomic management of the international collection, as well as supplies for its maintenance. In addition, they sponsored an in-depth study of the germplasm conserved in the collection and molecular characterization and genetic improvement work in Costa Rica and Panama, making use of the collection's wild germplasm.
According to Solano, in the coming years, CATIE will continue to investigate the performance of the materials in its international collection from the point of view of disease tolerance, organoleptic characteristics and above all as a tool to address climate change. "We are convinced that this germplasm represents the future of world coffee growing, both for its use as a variety and as progenitors in genetic improvement schemes," said Solano.
In addition, CATIE continues to develop research with hybrids and since 2015 more than 100 crosses have been made between different commercial varieties with other wild materials selected from the collection. "F1 hybrids represent an alternative to renew coffee plantations in the region and face challenges such as rust and climate change as they present characteristics that make them superior to traditional coffee varieties," Solano said.
All this to continue with the commitment to advance in the genetic improvement of the crop, as the best alternative to make the results of research available to coffee growers and offer them materials of high genetic quality, high production and excellent cup quality.
About the market and the properties of coffee
The quality of coffee is the addition of several factors, some of them can be modified by human beings, such as handling, harvesting time, drying process, resting time, roasting, among others. But there are also other very important factors to achieve a quality coffee; these are the genetics of the variety and the environment in which the plants grow.
Specialty coffee producers and new generations of coffee drinkers are in search of a beverage that possesses unique organoleptic characteristics, exotic flavors and aromas that have not been discovered before.
In CATIE's International Coffee Collection there are more than 800 wild accessions and also some "heirloom" varieties that currently present outstanding agronomic characteristics of disease tolerance, but particularly, excellent cup quality with unique fruity and fruity flavors.
Regarding its benefits, The New York Times in its June 2021 publication, called The Health Benefits of Coffee, reports that the latest scientific studies on the effects of coffee and caffeine have been linked to inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes; while its antioxidants have anti-inflammatory effects that can counteract heart disease and cancer.
Researcher in Plant Genetic Resources
Coffee and Cocoa Agro-forestry and Plant Breeding Unit
Karla Salazar Leiva
Information Technology and Communication