The Costa Rican Coffee Recovery Plan
Update: March 28, 2016
At the Starbucks 2016 Annual Meeting of Shareholders the president and chief operating officer Kevin Johnson played a video of the company’s agricultural research center in Costa Rica, which is located on the skirts of the Poas volcano in the province of Alajuela. It highlights the company’s emphasis on creating a sustainable supply of coffee for future generations. Starbucks announced it is in on track to donate 20 million rust-resistant coffee tree seedlings to farmers this year through its One tree for Every Bag commitment. He also talked about visiting other coffee farms in Costa Rica earlier this year, including its own, Hacienda Alsacia, which is Starbucks first coffee farm and a center for global agronomy research.
Costa Rica’s strategy for stemming the dwindling annual coffee production tonnage appears to be paying off. Not just in Costa Rica but for coffee growers worldwide.
‘Coffee Rust’ called Roya disease (fungus hemileia vastatrix) and global climate changes are greatly affecting all coffee producing regions worldwide, not just Costa Rica. Many are small farmers and when faced with these destructive elements they stop farming coffee. There are also a small percentage that have switched to growing less affected, but inferior, strains of coffee that are less palatable.
The following organizations have been working hard, to find ways to reverse this threat, while growers anxiously await results from their joint efforts:
- Costa Rican Government
- The National Coffee Institute (ICAFE)
- Center for Coffee Research (CICAFE)
- Starbucks Corporation
- Texas A&M University’s ‘World Coffee Research’ project.
These organizations have made a multi-million-dollar investment in a project that aims to save the coffee industry from extinction. Although, very important to consumers and coffee producing nations, as a commodity coffee plays a distant second-fiddle to crude oil on international markets.
The threatened coffee varietal is called the Arabica. After it was first imported into Costa Rica it became the only variety ‘legal for cultivation in Costa Rica’ for several reasons. To begin, skillful roasters transform these beans into the most sought after coffee for brewing. Aribica’s rich flavor makes it the most popular coffee among connoisseurs. And for growers, its yields are prolific, making it very profitable. Arabica originally came from the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, and there are some sub-varieties, that contain less caffeine but retain the same delightful taste. The two most common mutants are the Caturra and Catuaí in Costa Rica. However, all Arabica coffee plants bare the brunt of the Roya’s devastating effects.
Starbucks Research Project
The collaborative team of Starbucks Corporation, the Government and other Costa Rica’s coffee specialists agreed on a joint strategy to develop a palatable solution to these problems.
Howard D. Schultz, chairman of Starbucks Corporation, drafted Carlos Mario, their resident agronomist, to spearhead the research team. Using their combined decades of knowledge and experience the plan is to create a suitable substitute on the Corporation’s farm. By combining the new varieties and modern planting techniques they hope the industry will recover. Mr. Schultz is quoted as saying, “It also opens up an opportunity for Starbucks to innovate with proprietary coffee varietals that can support the development of future blends.”
Hacienda Alsacia, already has over 250 new varieties growing there; a result of effort between Starbucks, technical assistance from Texas A & M University’s ‘World Coffee Research project’, and Costa Rican coffee growers.
The coffee recovery plan is already paying dividends. Hacienda Alsacia is already producing new varieties that are now being tested. Five new strains produced by the facility were released to the National Coffee Institute (ICAFE) for their ‘in-field testing’ in Costa Rica. ICAFE spokespersons say the seeds will be researched and distributed to farmers over the next two years. ICAFE is also conducting studies on new berries on their experimental Center for Coffee Research (CICAFE) set up in San Pedro de Barva in Heredi, Costa Rica.
In 2013 Starbucks Corporation purchased 396 million pounds of green coffee worldwide. In October 2014, the farm here produced over 300,000 pounds of bean for testing, and replanting. This created an opportunity for 2,100, Starbucks’ district managers to sip samples of the ‘first-crop’. Estimates say that Starbucks produces 3% of the world’s coffee.
Robusta, Obata, and Costa Rica 95 Catimor, are the three strains most resistant to the coffee Roya (Rust) disease. They are hardier and resistant to the disease, but are less appealing in flavor than the consumer‘s choice- Arabica.
If successful these projects will rescue over one-million coffee farmers around the world. The benefits will trickle down to over 25 million persons working in the industry.
In North Americans 100 million people drink an average of 350 million cups of coffee daily. The USA people spend an estimated $18-billion annually on coffee.
Worldwide over 400 billion cups are consumed each year, amounting to 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed daily and $100 billion spent annually.
Besides the investment in research and development, Starbucks also provides financial support to local farmers, helping them access loans to boost the replanting and introduction of new techniques to the industry. In Costa Rica there currently are only four Starbucks outlets – on Avenida Escazú, Lincoln Plaza, Escazú, and now Plaza Freses on the eastern side of San Juan. In grocery stores local Costa Rica coffee companies are far more popular and it’s no wonder why.
At Blue River Resort and Hot Springs, the coffee is always hot and delicious. Sit back and relax overlooking the Rincon de la Vieja in front of the hot springs pools or take your cup to one of the benches inside the Botanical Gardens or Butterfly Gardens. Also, try out the local brands while on your vacation. Many people return home hooked on a particular brand. Given that Costa Rica coffee farms often fetch the highest price for their berries worldwide, it’s no wonder. And let’s hope that the Costa Rica Recovery Plan comes up with a solution soon to this horrible blight.