WCR unveils first-ever coffee variety catalogue for Central America

World Coffee Research (WCR) has published the first-ever catalogue of coffee varieties for Central America, called Coffee Varieties of Mesoamerica and the Carribea. 

Launched and presented at Re:Co Dublin on 22 June, the catalogue of Coffea arabica coffees for Central America, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica gathers the essential information on 33 major cultivars in the region.

It is the result of interviews with more than 170 experts across Central America, visits to each Promecafe country, and reviews by all national institutes in the regions.

Using the catalogue as a foundation, the WCR Verified Program will introduce a formalised system of quality control for coffee nurseries to ensure that the planting material farmers are purchasing is in fact the material they intend to plant.

WCR says the new catalogue will help to eliminate some of the uncertainty that goes along with crop planting and renovations.

“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,” WCR’s Communications Director, Hanna Neuschwander says.

“Many farmers don’t even know what varieties they have. 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 or she 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 to 30 years, Hanna says the decision producers make about which variety to plant has consequences until the next generation. As such, the lack of a comprehensive, up-to-date coffee catalogue puts farmers at risk.

The new Coffee Varieties of Mesoamerica and the Carribea catalog urgently brings 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,” Hanna says.

The coffee leaf rust crisis of 2012 affected nearly 600,000 thousand acres of Central American coffee farmland. As a result, nearly 300,000 coffee farmers need to replant.

“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 catalog was created,” Hanna says.

The catalogue includes the genetic groupings of the 33 varieties, which WCR confirmed by a genetic diversity analysis last year.

In a couple of cases, WCR says the study has revealed new information about varieties. For example, it was commonly believed that Java was a Typica derivative, but WCR analysis has showed it is much more closely related to Ethiopian landraces like Geisha.

The catalogue also includes Geisha (Panama) as a distinct variety. WCR genetic analysis established that the Geisha variety historically cultivated in Panama (introduced to Panama from the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, CATIE, in Costa Rica in 1963 by Francisco Serracin, better known as Don Pachi) corresponds to CATIE accession T02722. It had previously 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,” Hanna says. “This is, as we understand it, the first time anyone has confirmed the distinct genetics of this coffee.”

A print version of the catalogue will be printed in Spanish and distributed throughout Promecafe countries to about 10,000 industry personal, including technicians, nursery managers, and others. An interactive online version is available in English and Spanish.

PDF copies of the catalogue in English and Spanish are available for free download on the WCR website. Click here to access the document.

Importers, roasters, NGO, and other groups working with farmers are encouraged to download and distribute the catalog.

For more information about the catalog visit varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org

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