Description of the Agroforestry and Genetic Improvement of Coffee and Cacao (UAMCC)

Agroforestry covers more than one billion hectares (ha) worldwide and at least two hundred million in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). There are many types of agroforestry systems with annual and perennial crops and with animals, including silvopastoral systems, home gardens, and systems with annual and perennial crops. Among agroforestry systems with perennial crops, agroforestry coffee and cocoa plantations cover more than five million hectares and about two million hectares in LAC, respectively. Millions of rural families, hundreds of producer organizations and industries depend directly or indirectly on these crops.

The Agroforestry and Genetic Improvement of Coffee and Cacao Unit (UAMCC) was created in 2020 to take advantage of the scientific-technical knowledge, products and tools generated during our long history at CATIE in agroforestry systems since 1970 and with the conservation of germplasm and genetic improvement of coffee and cocoa since 1945.

At UAMCC we work with two main objectives (goals): 1) Contribute to the design and management of diversified and sustainable agroforestry systems for the provision of ecosystem services for the benefit of families and their farms, the landscape, and territories, which especially involves the optimal management of woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms) and their interactions with coffee and cocoa crops. 2) Generate promising materials (varieties: hybrids, clones) of coffee and cocoa for the use and socioeconomic benefit of rural families and other actors in the chain (academics, industry) and take advantage of the genetic wealth conserved in international germplasm collections of CATIE´s coffee and cocoa from.

Our main lines of work at UAMCC are:

1) Design and redesign of agroforestry systems with annual and perennial crops, with productive efficiency and resilience to climate and financial uncertainties, with initiatives that involve actions at the farm level and at the landscape level. At CATIE we are a Latin American benchmark in agroforestry science and in the last 20 years, our research and development findings, through a series of national and regional projects, have contributed to the reactivation of the coffee and cocoa sectors in LAC. This reactivation includes actions from the promotion of better varieties, better training for technicians and producer families, guidelines for the management of profitable and resilient systems to economic and biophysical impacts, improvements in value chains, promotion of good practices in NAMA initiatives and decarbonization, even inputs for policies in favor of these crops.

The agroforestry work of the UAMCC is not limited to working with coffee and cocoa, but encompasses broader actions and approaches focused on the optimal design and management of trees in the different land uses of the farms and the planning and restoration processes of agricultural landscapes.

2) Sustainable management of agroforestry systems for the provision of ecosystem services, including diversified production (coffee, cocoa, fruits, wood, and other goods) to increase household income (living incomes) and reduce food and nutritional insecurity, improve soil fertility and nutrient recycling, capturing, and reducing the carbon footprint, regulating pests and diseases, and scenic beauty, among others.living incomes) y reducir la inseguridad alimentaria y nutricional, mejorar la fertilidad y reciclaje de nutrientes del suelo, capturar y reducir la huella de carbono, regular plagas y enfermedades, y belleza escénica, entre otros.

3) Conservation, characterization and increase of genetic diversity in coffee and cocoa collections. Our Unit oversees maintaining the most important coffee and cocoa collections in LAC. The coffee collection has 2000 coffee accessions, and the cocoa collection has more than 1200 accessions (30% native accessions). Both have been in CATIE for more than 70 years and have been in the “public domain” category, which allows us to share materials with those interested in using them for the direct benefit of producers or for research for development . The coffee collection is also considered a collection of Origin (only four with that category in the world).

4) Genetic improvement to develop and release promising coffee and cocoa materials that are productive, tolerant to pests and diseases, adapted to climate change and of high organoleptic quality.

The lines of work are addressed with research and / or development projects that are carried out on CATIE´s own farms (agroforestry trials, genetic improvement programs) and in international projects, especially in Central and South America, and in the Caribbean, but also in other continents.

Genetic improvement programs have contributed to the release of coffee hybrids and cocoa clones that currently already have an impact on producers' farms due to their productivity characteristics, resistance / tolerance to pests, and grain quality, particularly in Central America.

Five coffee hybrids (Centroamericano, Milenio, Esperanza, Casiopea, and Excelencia) and six cocoa clones (among which are the CATIE R1, R4, R6 clones) are the most distributed in the region. Coffee hybrids produce at least 30-50% more than traditional varieties and cocoa clones can at least triple regional yield averages, with proper agronomic-agroforestry management. Currently, there are crosses of 50 families of coffee hybrids and 8 promising cocoa clones under evaluation, which would be a next generation of promising materials.

At the UAMCC we have a wide network of partners with whom we carry out research and development actions to impact the agroforestry field and the genetic improvement of coffee and cocoa. Among them are the Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the BIOVERSITY-CIAT alliance and the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI).

In addition, we are a founding member of the AGROFORESTA platform, animated by CIRAD, which involves several other international organizations and develops research in agroforestry systems with perennial crops in LAC. For the conservation of germplasm and the genetic improvement of coffee and cocoa, there is currently the support of important collaborators such as World Coffee Research (WCR), San Francisco Bay Coffee, Crop Trust, Lindt, Nestlé, MARS, and USDA. The UAMCC findings are disclosed in CATIE training courses, diplomas, and master's degrees.

Likewise, it is important to mention that our Unit is made up of a leader, a senior advisor and three teams of experts (researchers and technicians) organized into working groups: the coffee group, the cocoa group and the agroforestry group. Experts in plant genetic resources (germplasm conservation and genetic improvement), agronomy-agroforestry and grain quality intervene in each group. UAMCC's actions are closely linked with other CATIE dependencies, especially with the Environmental Livestock Unit, which works very intensively on silvopastoral systems (GAMMA) and the Agribusiness Unit.

Success story Cocoa production with improved clones

Mr. Edwin Sibaja's farm located in Katira de Guatuso, in the north of Costa Rica. In 2009, he decided to plant CATIE cocoa clones on his farm to compare its performance with the varieties he already knew in the area.

The clones´ good performance from the first years has represented a substantial improvement in the farm's production. According to his statements, with the management practices applied, from the fifth year the yield exceeded 1000 kg / ha and his future expectation is to achieve 1500-2000 kg / ha.

Although he prefers the CATIE-R4 and CATIE-R6 clones, Mr. Sibaja highlights from the group of clones the high productivity, which increases year by year, and mainly the resistance to diseases such as moniliasis, which contrasts with the susceptibility of the local trees he had on his farm.

This experience has had a positive impact on the region's producers, who –inspired by Edwin's results– have made visits and trainings to start cocoa production with their support and make the area a benchmark in the cultivation of cocoa in agroforestry systems combined with timber and legume trees.

For more information you can contact:

Rolando Cerda, leader of the Unit (rcerda@catie.ac.cr)

William Solano, responsible of coffee and cocoa collections and materials (wsolano@catie.ac.cr)

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