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Innovea, the network aiming to transform the coffee industry

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Climate change has nudged coffee into an uncertain future–one that calls into question the long-term supply and availability of high-quality coffee. Therefore, coffee sustainability currently involves finding a new way to protect coffee and, consequently, the entire value chain. 

To steer coffee toward a sustainable path, World Coffee Research, a global organization dedicated to “growing” the future of coffee, was born. The non-profit, collaborative research and development program, supported by the coffee industry worldwide, is driving agricultural innovation. De’Longhi supports this organisation and is dedicated to championing a sustainable future for coffee. The support provided by De’Longhi enables millions of coffee producers around the world to benefit from the ripple effect of the WCR’s work.

Despite strenuous efforts, individual national research programs face significant limitations when working individually—from aging scientists to outdated breeding approaches to a general lack of funding. In particular, national-level investments in the creation of new varieties have decreased over the last 50 years, resulting in an innovation crisis that prevents the coffee industry from achieving its goals of sustainability, quality, and supply assurance. Accordingly, WCR has developed an initiative to address these problems and ensure the future of coffee.  

Innovea: the new worldwide breeding network  

WCR established Innovea, a global coffee breeding network, in late 2022. It aims to unite collaborating countries to generate new Arabica coffee varieties. The program’s unique collaborative design will enable nine participating countries—Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, and the United States, which produce 23% of the world’s exported arabica coffee—to accelerate the pace of genetic improvement in coffee.  

The Innovea network is supported by WCR’s 200+ member companies that include some of the industry’s leading brands and will drive science-based agricultural solutions to secure a diverse, sustainable supply of quality coffee for both today and the future. Through the network, WCR will create new, improved, breeding populations using modern genomic selection techniques, and distribute them without restriction to participating countries.

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Coffee agriculture of the future 

High-performing agricultural systems require coffee varieties adapted to specific production environments and market demands. For example, modern plant breeding can help achieve pest- and disease-resistant coffee varieties, reducing the need for pesticides and other costly interventions. Breeding can also allow higher-quality, higher-yielding coffee to grow at lower elevations and higher temperatures, expanding production potential in the face of climate change. And higher-yielding varieties can reduce deforestation pressure and mitigate the carbon emissions of coffee farming. These better-performing coffees can result in higher revenues and a better livelihood for local farmers, and help improve the sustainability of coffee farming.

The Innovea network primarily focuses on developing diverse breeding populations distributed every six years to varied agro-ecological environments in different countries. Aggregated global performance data will indicate which plants thrive in what climates so that countries can choose the optimal plants to make available for commercialization on the basis of yielddisease resistance, and the quality of the coffee in the cup. Varieties tailored to the needs of each country can then be shared with farmers. 

Complete variety development is a long-term endeavour. Depending on the breeding approach and performance, some countries could release new varieties as early as 2033, though most will require several more years. After that, a country may be able to release new varieties every three to five years.

The Journey Ahead

The Innovea network’s globally coordinated approach provides tremendous value to countries unable to combat climate change independently, achieving results beyond the capacity of a more traditional program operating within the borders of a single country. The network connects researchers across national boundaries to achieve results not possible for programs working in isolation. Participating countries have unlimited access to new research materials, training in modern breeding approaches, and shared tools. 

The impact: from the farm to one’s home

The Innovea Global Coffee Breeding Network will transform the global coffee supply using the latest crop improvement technologies. The industry and farmers will design the future coffee together by employing a demand-led breeding approach. Over the next two decades, De’Longhi hopes to see multiple countries accessing improved, climate-resilient, and tastier varieties. Farmers can then source this continuous pipeline of varieties from their national research institutions.

Coffee lovers can also do their part to help, whether at home or the coffee shop: in addition to drinking high-quality coffee, they can expand their horizons to sample coffee varieties from around the world.

To learn more about World Coffee Research and how you can support its work, head to worldcoffeeresearch.org.