When you visit the website for World Coffee Research (WCR) you’ll find a map showing every country in which they have an active project. The map looks very familiar to everyone at Olam because Olam has offices in most of the countries currently hosting WCR projects. But the commonalities between Olam and WCR go beyond our neighborly geography.

The Whole Supply Chain

Similar to Olam’s integrated supply chain approach, which allows us to control aspects of quality and sustainability from farm to table, WCR conducts research on coffee from seed to cup. Growing, processing, roasting, marketing, consumption, and the economics of coffee are all areas where WRC has focused its attention.

Coffee nursery in Laos by Alan Nietlisbach

Some of the most important work being done by WCR reaches further back into the supply chain than the coffee trade usually travels, beyond the seeds to genetics and breeding. The types of arabica coffee most commonly found around the world are not expected to fare well in the future as the climate changes. So WCR analyzed over 800 arabica strains to create a “Core Collection” of 100 diverse strains for hybrid development.

Currently, coffee research fields in 23 countries are growing 35 of the best performing varieties. In the fields, these new hybrids receive intense scrutiny and will be evaluated for their resistance to disease, productivity, drought tolerance, and cup quality, among other things.

The “winners” are expected to demonstrate a 30 to 40 percent improvement in productivity over current varieties and be less susceptible to leaf rust. These new plant varieties could be released for commercial use as soon as 2020.

But new varieties of coffee won’t mean much if they don’t have anywhere to grow. Working with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, WCR identified five types of climates where coffee grows and predicted the impacts from climate change. Although most of the areas where specialty coffee grows will not be greatly affected, up to 50% of the land where coffee is grown today will not be suitable by 2050, when demand is expected to be double what it is today.

Kenya by Brandon Thiessen

According to WCR, the greatest opportunity for suitable (and available) land is Africa. Africa could replace all the land lost, identified mostly as the “hot dry” coffee climate type, and meet the increase in demand. WCR and the Africa Fine Coffee Association have launched the “Africa Coffee Renaissance Initiative” to help ensure Africa is ready for the journey from smallest coffee region to among the largest.

On the other end of the supply chain, WCR has published a comprehensive sensory lexicon and partnered with the Specialty Coffee Association of America to produce a new Coffee Tasters Flavor Wheel, the first update in over 20 years.

An Easy Decision

Alan Nietlisbach, Senior Vice President for Olam Coffee, says, “When you look at the work WCR is doing, it is clearly critical, not simply a good thing to do. They’ve taken a very long view on coffee and sustainability, meeting short term needs and planning for long-term viability. That’s the approach to sustainability we take at Olam.”

Because we at Olam do believe in the work of WCR, our roaster customers can sign up to donate for every pound of green coffee they purchase from us, and not only will we submit all the paperwork, but we’ll match the donation up to a penny per pound.

Says Nietlisbach, “A penny a pound is an easy decision when someone asks if coffee will still be here in a hundred years, and they’re serious.”