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A Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative
Strong demand for specialty coffees is expected to continue in the U.S. as is exemplified through the recent entries into the specialty coffee market by large restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, Krystal, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. Already, specialty consumption in the U.S. has rocketed to 40% of the market. Global consumption trends also reflect strong growth with specialty coffee consumption worldwide expected to grow exponentially due to the product’s appeal in emerging super‐economies such as Brazil, India, and China.
In order to meet the demands of this huge and rapidly growing specialty coffee market, over 50 million farmers from 35 different countries are striving to produce sufficient volumes of quality coffee. However, the supply of quality coffee is reaching its upper limit as witnessed already through the high differentials and limited availability for washed arabicas including Kenyan, Colombian and Guatemalan coffees experienced this year.
Without an increase in the total world volume of specialty‐grade green coffees, the specialty coffee industry will plateau and even risks downturn. The effect of global warming also looms as a serious threat within the next two decades. Finally, the limited existing genetic base in C. arabica leaves the coffee industry extremely vulnerable to pandemic insect and disease threats.
In addition to much needed increases in total supply, increases in overall coffee quality per se are also necessary to help reverse the consumption stagnation that has long plagued the coffee industry. Quality continues to drive the expansive growth of specialty coffees at the top end where product differentiation needs are the greatest. Top end growth creates a ‘pull‐up” effect, raising the quality bar and thus growing the market for the entire industry.
Regretfully, because of the geographic, economic, and social schism that exists worldwide between coffee producing and coffee consuming countries, there has never existed a unified, coordinated initiative to fund research that can address the global constraints to improving both quality and supply of specialty coffees. The time is ripe to alleviate the industry’s supply and quality constraints by addressing these urgent issues through the organization of a Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative (“GCQRI”).
This initiative is being proposed from within the specialty coffee industry in consuming countries and is intended to increase overall cup quality and available volumes of specialty coffee through research interventions in origin countries, thus raising farmer returns and increasing roaster sales by stimulating higher consumer interest and consumption. The program will be driven by industry and build upon the existing global network of coffee research institutions and scientists that will work with the specialty coffee industry to design, fund and execute prioritized and coordinated research on key factors limiting cup quality and constraining higher production. The research results are intended to be widely disseminated in all producing and consuming countries, and made freely available to all interested parties in perpetuity.
The US specialty coffee industry and the SCAA have been engaged with the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture to develop a collaborative research support program that can meet industry needs while increasing producer incomes and building the capacity of research institutions at origin to undertake this type of work on their own.The collaborative character of the research offered through the program will be distinct from contract research, in that International Research Institutions like U.S. Universities, CIRAD, the IARCS and strong National Coffee Research Institutions like those in Brasil and Colombia will partner with challenged origin country research institutions, providing oversight and building capacity within host countries to continue the coffee quality research. In this way, the Global Coffee Program will be a coordinated, multi‐disciplinary research program that is collaboratively developed and cooperatively implemented, with shared responsibilities between International and host country institutions and industry.
Impact from this program will be felt at all levels in the specialty coffee value chain, however, nowhere will it be as important as it will be to the millions of disadvantaged small holder coffee farmers. Indeed, it is the diversity of the growing regimes, and the care that small‐holders can give to their crops, that make superior quality coffee of highly differentiated attributes possible. Through this effort, the specialty coffee sector will be a greater economic force for improving the lives of small‐holders and impoverished communities while increasing cup quality and volumes of quality coffee for the growing market.