Collaborative coffee breeding

Posted by Liz Foggitt, Communications Manager, Twin on 5 August 2019

WCR breeding hub for blog

In February I spent some time in Rwanda meeting project partners and visiting producers. While I was there, I was lucky to be given a tour of a new African breeding hub in Rubona, a collaborative effort between World Coffee Research (WCR) and the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) - which hosts the hub, and nine participating countries from across East and Southern Africa. I was astonished at how big the breeding ground is, the vast array of coffee varieties and the scale of the programme.

The hub is the first regional, collaborative coffee-breeding effort ever embarked upon in Africa. The hub serves as centralised location for surrounding countries to access breeding populations and advanced molecular genetics expertise provided by World Coffee Research. WCR’s long-term vision is to form a network of interconnected regional hubs around the world to accelerate coffee breeding efforts worldwide.

So what happens at a hub?

WCR breeding hub different species

First and foremost, the hub in Rwanda is a place where breeders from across the region can receive training, and where students can work and defend theses (masters and PhD) in connection with local or international universities. 

Participating countries send their best breeders (or, oftentimes, their only breeders) to the hub along with the best locally adapted varieties the country has. Breeders can utilise the WCR Core Collection, an assortment of 100 genetically diverse arabicas, for crossing with their local material to create new F1 hybrid varieties. The new varieties are evaluated by each participating country, depending on their specific goals, for eventual release to farmers.  World Coffee Research provides pre-breeding materials, expertise, and connectivity with other global hubs as well as WCR’s network of global trial sites.

The Rwanda Agriculture Board is already in the process of making new, East-Africa-specific F1 hybrid crosses using the Core Collection and the best available local varieties. The hub has also received F1 hybrid crosses created by WCR in Central America to determine if any of them are promising for East Africa. In March 2019, the hub hosted the first regional breeder’s workshop, bringing together breeders from nine countries to set the agenda for the coming years.

At Twin, we regularly see the negative impact climate change has on coffee production so it’s encouraging to see a huge research programme dedicated to finding climate resilient species. We regularly keep in touch with WCR and look forward to seeing the outcomes of the research. We are keen to use our close relationships with various cooperatives in East Africa to test new species with WCR when they’re ready. There’s huge potential for lots of collaboration.

The creation of the African hub, and the advanced science that “feeds” into it, was enabled, in part, by contributions of coffee roasters around the world who participate in the World Coffee Research Checkoff Program. Twin is a proud participant in the program, which allows roasters to add one or more cents to each kilo of green coffee purchased from us.  If you’d like to know more about the Checkoff program, you can sign up here.