A New Day For Coffee!
June 1, 2016
“Imagine waking up to start your day without your favorite cup of hot-coffee. How would it feel?”
That is a terrifying thought for real coffee-lovers.
It nearly happened. Coffee rust, also known as Coffee roya, has ravaged Latin American plantations for years. The world’s favorite coffee bean was threatened with extinction. Not in the distant future; here, and now.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of a major coffee buyer, and a small team assembled in the mountains of Costa Rica, a real coffee-disaster is being averted.
This is the story of how the lives of many people are affected, in various ways, by the little coffee bean. When the Arabica bean was threatened it started one of the greatest collaborative cross-cultural efforts this Century.
Starbucks Research Nursery
The President and Chief Operating Officer of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson recognized the declining Arabica yields worldwide and took positive steps to head-off a catastrophe. One of the first steps took place in 2013, when Starbucks purchased Hacienda Alsacia, a 600 acre coffee nursery on the slopes of the Poás Volcano, in Alajuela.
To develop new strains of disease-resistant coffee varieties. To cultivate beans equal in flavor to Arabica.
- To produce plants with yields, equal to, or better than those of Arabica plants.
Starbucks based their research and development here at Hacienda Alascia, Costa Rica; headed by the best agronomist they could find.
Enter Carlos Rodriquez
Carlos Mario Rodriquez is the Director of Global Agronomy at Starbucks, where he has ‘partnered’ since 2004. He organized and spearheaded their research and development in Costa Rica.
“Prior to joining Starbucks, Rodriguez studied agronomy at the University of Costa Rica, where he worked in the university’s molecular biology lab. Soon after, Rodriguez worked at the National Biodiversity Institute before leading the countrywide coffee program at Instituto del Café de Costa Rica, or iCafe.”-Starbucks Newsroom, May 17th,2016.
Already familiar with the problems of the Coffee Roya disease, Rodriquez focused on this and other issues in the industry.
To maximize the chances of success, Starbucks teamed with these groups:
- The Costa Rican Government
- The National Coffee Institute (ICAFE)
- The Center for Coffee Research (CICAFE)
- Texas A&M University’s ‘World Coffee Research’ project.
- The Costa Rican coffee farmers.
The Challenge Faced by Carlos Mario Rodriquez
Rodriquez needed to:
- Develop several varieties for testing, and choose the best option in limited time.
- Gain the farmers cooperating in the project:
a. To systematically replace older, diseased, coffee producing plants.
b. To learn new growing and management techniques.
- Have the new suckers properly planted in the fields.
Under the watchful supervision, Carlos Rodriquez nursed ‘his babies’, as he tried and tested his new varietals. His work is described as ‘open sourced agronomy’. It is designed to be shared globally for the benefit of all coffee growers. Starbucks is investing the information gained by this project, in farmers from Costa Rica to Roawanda.
The Results of Starbucks Efforts
- Costa Rica’s farmers are already growing seedlings developed by the project.
- The project has developed over 60 new varieties of coffee.
- They have produced over 60,000 new seedlings for farmers to test.
- The new coffee plants have tested resistant to the Coffee Roya disease.
- The project has earned international recognition for its outstanding results.
To fund further industry restoration and its systematic replanting, Starbucks introduced an incentive program. For every bag of coffee purchased in their store they are donating US$0.70, from the sale to the program. The ‘One-Tree-for-Every-Bag’ program- (VIDEO) gives a free plant to a farmer per bag of coffee purchased from Starbucks.
The money goes to Conservation International, and they will arrange distribution of the free plants. This will ensure the sustainability of the project. This year, Starbucks will donate 20 Million rust-resistant coffee tree seedlings.
Fast Company magazine publishes an annual business rating of the ‘top 100’-most progressive business changers. Carlos Rodriquez was rated as the 15th Top Person– for his impact on the coffee industry in March 2016. He was recognized “For keeping Starbucks–and farmers everywhere–full of beans”. Fast Company- was established in 1995, by Bill Taylor and Alan Webber, both former editors of Harvard Business Review.
The collaborative efforts of the teams working together in Costa Rica have now developed new varieties of Arabica coffee capable of resisting the known diseases in the plantations. The benefits are, an equally great tasting coffee, excellent yields, and the knowledge of modern growing techniques for the farmers. Major coffee traders will benefit from better supplies and more stable world prices
You can rest easy knowing that in the morning there will be another great cup of Arabica coffee brewing.
Coffee plantation tours can be booked at the Tour Desk at the Blue River Resort and Hot Springs. Then sample some select Costa Rican Arabica coffee at the Blue River Resort, there the coffee is always hot and fresh. Enjoy it here at the Resort or we will arrange to ship your purchases for you. Once home, every sip will bring back fond memories of a great vacation.
Putting The Coffee Rust Disease into Context
As coffee drinkers worldwide were enjoying their favorite cup of coffee, the Coffee Rust disease was busy at work killing the plants that produced their favorite coffee. It was a serious disaster facing the entire coffee industry. This ruthless disease was projected to totally destroy the Arabica coffee strain by 2020.
In 2014, Carlos Rodriquez’s team discovered and faced basic structural challenges endemic to coffee farming which led to a whole new way of farming. These problems had to be fixed before tackling the roya disease.
- Farmers were using outdated farming techniques.
- A significant number of the coffee plants in the field were now old and low producing.
- Farmers were heavily indebted. Their debt came from unpaid loans incurred by failed coffee crops.
What compounded this hurdle for Costa Rica coffee farmers and their families, was that they make their living from growing coffee on small 3 to 5 acre farms.
Coffee Roya or Coffee Rust disease began destroying coffee plants slowly at first in the early 2000’s. With each successive year the number of dead trees grew at an alarming rate. Now and in 2015, the threat was well advanced and had gained the attention of those working in the mega-coffee industry.
Coffee is big business worldwide, over 400 Billion cups are consumed each year, that is 2.25- Billion cups of coffee consumed daily and $100 Billion spent annually.