Stuart McCook, Andrea Montero‐Mora

Coffee breeding in a time of crisis: F1 hybrids in Central America since 1990

  • Horticulture
  • Plant Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Forestry

Social Impact StatementCentral America is renowned for producing some of the world's finest coffee, prized for its quality and flavor. With coffee being a major export crop for many countries, the region's economic, social, and cultural well‐being is closely linked to the success of its coffee industry. Coffee breeding supports the industry's long‐term sustainability and competitiveness by developing new varieties that are more productive, disease‐resistant, climate resilient, and adapted to the coffee producer's realities. Ongoing efforts in coffee breeding have significant implications for the livelihoods of thousands of coffee farmers and their families, the economies of Central American countries, and the preservation of the region's rich coffee tradition and culture.Summary The central objective is to understand how coffee breeding programs have evolved to help coffee farmers adapt to the rapidly changing economic, political, institutional, and environmental conditions since 1990. Before then, coffee breeders focused primarily on productivity, developing dwarf varieties bred for intensive monoculture production. Since 1990, breeders have shifted their work to address climate change, new diseases and pests, a growing industry interest in cup quality, and unprecedented price volatility. Much of the breeding work has shifted from public institutions to international technical assistance agencies, international non‐governmental organizations (NGOs), and private companies. Their new programs focus on developing F1 coffees designed for agroforestry production and, which, can be developed quickly in response to changing conditions. This case study also complicates narratives about the place of hybrid coffees in agricultural modernization during the 20th and 21st centuries. Analyze documents produced over the past 30 years by key breeding organizations, governments, trade organizations, to assess the evolution of breeding programs in historical context, and the progress of the new coffees in the field. Some F1 hybrids have shown considerable promise, but challenges surrounding their propagation, distribution, and cost—as well as their suitability for the specialty coffee market—have so far prevented farmers from adopting them on a large scale. The switch to F1 coffee breeding represents a deep strategic shift in coffee breeding in Central America, more attuned to the needs of coffee farmers. While the F1 coffees can help farmers address many of the farmers' technical challenges, cost and logistical issues remain a challenge.

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