Alliance named to rebuild Central American coffee industry
A Texas A&M AgriLife project, the largest of its type awarded to date, aims to help reconstruct a Central American coffee industry still recovering from a coffee rust disease epidemic that has devastated the region.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has announced an almost $5 million partnership with Texas A&M University entities and others on a Global Development Alliance to focus on research efforts in coffee-producing regions of Central America, the Caribbean and Peru.
The alliance is led by World Coffee Research and the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture in College Station, both programs of Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
Project partners include coffee research and development institutions from Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Dominican Republic and Jamaica, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, the Feed the Future initiative of USAID, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development and the Federal University of Vicosa.
The project seeks primarily to rebuild livelihoods and food security for smallholder farmers whose income was ravaged by the rust epidemic. As such, research will focus on establishing an improved Central American coffee sector through plantation renovation with high quality, disease resistant coffee varieties and a constant pipeline of newer, higher performing varieties.
The rust epidemic cost the Central American coffee industry $1 billion in the harvest season of late 2012 alone, according to Dr. Tim Schilling, executive director of World Coffee Research.
“We are confident in this alliance’s ability to turn things around for the Central American coffee producer who has been hit hard with a double-whammy of leaf rust and low prices,” Schilling said. “Central America must shoot for the higher end of the market and this alliance will allow that to happen by providing high-quality, rust-resistant varieties tailored for specific eco-geographic zones.”
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said, “By partnering with innovators from College Station to Colombia, we can promote broad-based economic growth for the world’s most vulnerable people. Fighting epidemics like coffee rust empowers entrepreneurs and creates sustainable livelihoods for families – helping entire communities become self-sufficient.”
While much of the project work will be done in Central America, two coffee biotechnologists will work as post-doctorates at the Texas A&M Institute for Biotechnology and Genomics in College Station under the direction of Dr. Martin Dickman of the department of plant pathology and microbiology in the Texas A&M University System’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Additionally, an innovative rust biocontrol approach will be executed with the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil and Kew Gardens in London.