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Coffee Leaf Rust – the Colombian experience PS Baker M Sheridan (CRS) Belo Horizonte, 12th September 2013

Colombian Coffee Federation A long view • It started in 1927 • The Federation’s first annual budget, included funding for research into coffee production and disease. • In 1938, Colombia established a National Coffee Research Center, Cenicafé . For 75 years, it has been working on genetic improvement to increase the productivity and resilience of Colombian coffee

The long view • As early as 1968, Cenicafé was combining Timor hybrid (a naturally occurring Arabica*Robusta hybrid) with the popular Caturra cultivar to create lines of rust-resistant Catimor • This high-yielding and highly resistant variety was first developed in Portugal (CIFC) • After five generations of breeding and selection in the Catimor line, Cenicafé released its Colombia cultivar in 1982, highlighting its productivity, cup quality and resistance. • Rust arrived in Colombia in 1983

A remarkable thing • Colombia was so concerned about coffee rust that it started working on the problem even before rust arrived in Latin America • Extremely rare for an institute to be so proactive • Most institutes are reactive, the ‘Let’s hope it won’t happen’ philosophy • And because of this are continually surprised by events

Variedad Colombia • By the 1990s a third of the coffee area was planted with var. Colombia, • It’s an unusual variety which consists of a large number (c. 50) of non-identical lines • I.e. not a single clone, but a range of lines derived from different crosses between the Timor hybrid and Caturra • Over time some of these lines developed some susceptibility, but largely they managed to maintain resistance by exchanging some of the lines • There is also a measure of more durable incomplete resistance in the variety

New resistant vars. since 2002 • Cenicafé ‘s breeding didn’t stop with var. Colombia. In 2002 it introduced the Tabi cultivar. • In 2005, it released Castillo var. along with research showing across-the-board improvements over the Colombia and Tabi in productivity, disease resistance and cup quality. • This last claim continues to be the subject of disagreement between the Federation and quality-focused roasters around the world. • But when production losses to coffee leaf rust spiked beginning in 2008, the Federation began a massive campaign to replace traditional cultivars with Castillo.

A time line of significant events

Independent survey of Colombian farmers

• As part of a baseline survey for the Catholic Relief Services Borderlands Coffee Project, they asked some 500 smallholder coffee farmers in Colombia the following three questions: – The last time you planted coffee, what variety did you use? – The next time you plant coffee, what variety will you use? – Why?

Farmer questionnaire (c. 500 responses)

Farmer questionnaire (c. 500 responses)

Farmer questionnaire (c. 500 responses)

Michael Sheridan’s evaluation • The story of Castillo, as told by farmers, is one of resistance to coffee leaf rust and other diseases and strong productivity. Its principal appeal to farmers – it will help them continue to achieve high levels of productivity at a time when production losses have been considerable. • Farmers see the value proposition of traditional varieties — principally Caturra — differently. While productivity is still the principal draw, there is a clear association with cup quality — it was the second-most frequent justification for planting traditional varieties. • Only 2% of the reasons given for planting Castillo, by contrast, referenced cup quality.

A roasters’ view (enlightened) Tom Owen of Sweet Maria’s • There’s a place for catimor [a hybrid variety created using Robusta genetics], honestly, at 1000 meters where plants are devastated by coffee rust fungus or other diseases, bourbon or typica or caturra would not survive, and wouldn’t cup well anyway. • They should go for quantity there, and maybe they can max out at 84 points with the help of coffee quality research. But in places where good cultivars can be grown, the farmer needs to be presented with improved methods to maximize quality, distinguish this level of coffee from the lower grown arabica down the road, and get paid accordingly!

Another view A major coffee roaster in 2001 • “Farmers should reconsider before planting Catimor variety. It ruined the industry in Colombia and has been banned from planting in Costa Rica. • “Catimor has undesirable Robusta traits and poor cupping quality in most places where it has been grown. • “Other cultivars must be sought and/or developed by breeding and selection to substitute for Catimor.”

Colombia’s raw deal • Cenicafe invested in a remarkable programme to develop rustresistant coffee • A sustainable solution – reduced use of chemicals, increased productivity – before the ‘sustainable era’ • But they got heavily attacked for it – especially by specialty roasters • Often the attacks were ill-informed • Sometimes quite aggressive criticism – sometimes expanded too to include other technology such as mechanical demucilation and unshaded coffee • Result: Colombian coffee officials can be by turns: defensive, aggrieved, frustrated

What should have happened A mediated discussion could have gone like this: • Roasters : ‘ we understand why you are promoting Catimors, but we don’t like the cup quality’ • Breeders: ‘okay, we can do something about this, we can improve cup quality through further breeding’ • Roasters: ‘are you sure?’ • Breeders: ‘yes – the genes that confer resistance are unlikely to be same the ones that cause the indifferent taste • Roasters: ‘thanks we didn’t know that’ • Breeders: ‘good, now are you prepared to fund the research….?’

The Colombians did it anyway

Nariño’s domination of the 2010 Colombia Cup of Excellence • The coffee website Sprudge ran an excellent, in-depth piece on the controversy around the varietal of the lot that won the Cup of Excellence competition. • The Federación Nacional de Cafeteros identified it as Castillo • Others insist it is a Caturra • Fact: one of Nespresso’s capsules uses Castillo var.

Pity the poor coffee breeder • That most miserable of professions • Takes 20 to 25 years to develop a new coffee variety • You might only get one opportunity in your life to develop a new breed • By the time you develop it, the game may have changed – 1970-80s: yield, resistance – 1990s: cup quality – 2000s: climate resilience – new diseases

• They get criticised by everyone from roasters to farmers

Caught out by climate change? • Colombia were so proactive on rust • But they faced a major crisis 2008 -2010 • Unprecedented weather

Colombia Catastrophic La Niña President Santos: "The tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history“ (May 24, 2011)

Resilient response to Niño/Niña

What could they have done differently? • • • • • • •

20:20 hindsight is easy Nobody predicted such an event It was a Black Swan event Was it a ‘one-off’? Or is it the start of a trend? We simply don’t know This is a major challenge that we all face now, how do we prepare for unimaginable events? • This is why we need collaborative initiatives • We can learn from Colombia’s experiences

Final caveat – not just rust • Mycena citricolor

Major attacks of Mycena citricolor in recent years

Other problems too • Coffee berry borer (La Broca) continues to be a problem, especially now that endosufan is banned • Red spider mite – was always a minor problem, now getting worse • A sucking bug (chinche) • Are pests and diseases getting worse? • Is it related to climate change? • It seems so, but we lack evidence, we need to provide proof

Colombian saying

“Coffee farmers sleep like babies … Every two hours they wake up and cry.”

The Colombian Experience PSB CABI