The Blog

view all

248. GCQRI reborn as WCR

The industry-led effort formerly known as GCQRI (the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative) announced yesterday that it has been reborn as WCR (World Coffee Research) and will begin research in select origins this month in service of its mission: To grow the Arabica coffee supply chain in a sustainable way through collaborative agricultural research and development.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (better known by its Spanish-language acronym CIAT), is a CRS partner on the Borderlands Coffee Project in Colombia and Ecuador and has been named as a WCR Research Partner.

We wish WCR every success in its important work, and will seek opportunities through our mutual collaborations with CIAT to support and advance its agenda and to make the new technologies it develops work for poor smallholder farmers.

6 Comments

  • hi Michael,

    From what a gain from their site, I am deeply concerned- mainly because of who is involved and the approach they are taking. It looks like another green revolution for coffee is in the making with climate change given as the impetus.

    The third bulletin on their website is titled:
    Who is Norman Borlaug? The Genius Behind the Green Revolution – Forbes Magazine

    Their mission is: “to turn coffee agriculture into a climatically intelligent activity . This implies becoming smarter by leveraging technology so that growers can adapt to the expected shifts in the local or regional environment. Thus, developing necessary information and instruments so that producers can counter the main factors that threaten the plantations’ productivity becomes a priority.”

    Among the research institutions to carrying this mission out: USDA Coffee Research Program- isn’t the blood of PROMECAFE and the 1970’s – 1980’s technification of Mesoamerican coffee on the USDA and USAID’s hands?

    As an agroecologist I am very concerned by the little I was able to gleam from their website. It looks similar to the veneer given to the ‘new” green revolution in Africa which involves a push for reliance on agrochemicals and GE crops by smallholders. Except this time Climate Change, not poverty, is the boogeyman. Climate change and poverty are real, but so is the evidence that conventional agriculture EXACERBATES both.

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but this doesn’t seem to be a reason for celebration, but instead resistance.

    • Also they claim to have Major Associations behind this- maybe I was naive to think they meant FARMERS associations, but no after I click all I see are trade and industry groups mostly based in the US and none in the countries of origin.

      This whole effort is based at the Borlaug (there he is again) Research institute at Texas A and M. This institution does not produce technologies, approaches and programs which are agroecological, sustainable, nor compatible with smallholder coffee farmers

      • Michael Sheridan says:

        Nick:

        Thanks for your comments and concerns about GCQRI WCR.

        I have also referred to WCR in shorthand as a “Green Revolution” for quality coffee, and understand that the associations that the Green Revolution evoke are indeed varied.

        I have not addressed the concerns you raise about the potential incompatibility between WCR-led approaches to agriculture and sustainable agroecology. But I have expressed other concerns about process here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

        In general, my sense is that that the smallholder perspective has been largely absent from the process. And that if WCR wants the technologies it generates to be adopted massively by resource-constrained smallholder farmers, then it needs to complement its technology focus with a nuanced understanding of the opportunities and constraints all along the coffee chain, beginning at origin. What is the ability of a smallholder farmer to pay for new technologies? If farmers can’t afford new technologies, are other chain actors willing to invest in them? If not, is credit available for this purpose? Are smallholders willing to incur debt in connection with unfamiliar technologies? What are the opportunity costs of adopting the new technology? What are the payoffs to smallholders? How long do smallholders have to wait to see returns on their investment in new technologies? Etc.

        Michael

  • I agree with you Michael. I am just cynical about the promise that this new packet of technologies holds for smallholders.

    This might sound like a rant but it is based in history and concerend with positive change.

    It is frustrating when you turn to a snazzy new website (like WCR’s) that has all these big buttons using key words like biodiversity, climate change and partners and when you click, you find out all they mean by biodiversity is cataloging the most productive arabica germplasm to introgress, hybridize as well as bioengineer these varieties with traits found all over the world in local varieties as well as other plants in the coffea genus. When they say climate change, they disingenuously refer to doing this process in places with changing climates. I mentioned what they meant by partner above….

    This combined with their emphasis on agrochemical fertilizers reveals their narrow focus on a type of productivity. Which makes sense when you click on members and see that this whole thing is funded by 30 coffee companies in order to secure coffee supplies, but at what cost to coffee farmer livelihoods and landscapes.

    It is also interesting, or maybe expected, that this top-down, “scientific” and technological fix comes when coffee prices are at a high. The last time this type of concerted attention by North American R and D institutions occurred when Central America was a hotbed of war and revolution – the quelling of which was the major impetus behind US AIDs technification interventions.

    Well the “scientific” evidence from years of Conservation Biologists, Anthropologists, and Agroecologists has revealed some of the unique and complex structures, functions and services that characterize smallholder coffee agroecosystems as well as the impacts that technification had upon their ability to conserve native biodiversity and provide many important ecosystem services. When combined with the political economic and sociological understanding we have gained of how these technological fixes have dispossessed smallholders from their farms and communities, while primarily benefiting the processing, input and retail sectors, it should be enough for educated people who are concerned with smallholder livelihoods and tropical conservation to say NO- to this wolf in sheep’s clothing that we’ve seen before!

    Productivity in smallholder agroforestry means more than just coffee production, but the production of a whole host of other goods and services. I bet the hybrid/ GE seeds that they develop will be much less compatible with this type of multifunctional production, and much more focused on high-yielding hybrid or GMO varieties reliant on agrochemicals. Other options DO exist in adapting these systems to climate change, they just don’t easily meld with the monocropping, productivist logic that drives the Borlaug Research Institute and the USDA.

    As supply increases, prices will drop and this all adds up to a win for the the US National Coffee Association, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and the 30 coffee companies that bankrolled this. And an equally big win for the agrochemical giants that are some of the biggest contributors to Texas A and M University.

    It would be cynical to say that Fair Trade USA would benefit b/c of this based on the fact that the premium might mean something if prices collapse. In fact, after emailing with Miguel Zamora at FT USA who is in charge of producer relations, I can say that one of their goals in involving in this is to improve the livelihoods of smallholders and his approach is a wait and see what develops. But if it doesn’t turn out to benefit smallholders, like my somewhat cynical self is predicting, then they as well as others involved in this project need to know.

  • Dear Michael and Nick,

    I very much appreciate your concerns to ensure that WCR goes about conducting coffee research in a way that improves the livelihoods of the producer and respects the environment. We have that same concern. As we state under our guiding principles/values on our webpage… ‘everything we do must enhance the livelihoods of the producers who are the stewards of both quality and productivity’.

    This is not a platitude. I’ve spent most of my life as an agricultural researcher working with small holder farmers, mainly in Africa. Recently, while working in Rwanda, we were able to introduce simple technologies that radically improved the lives of ten of thousands of very poor and very small coffee farmers. Their incomes increased on the order of 300% in 7 years. Their kids are now in schools, they have books, they have health care… they have hope, something they lost during the events of the 1994 genocide. In fact, many of those same farmers are now providing coffees to some of the most demanding and highest specialty coffee companies in the world. It’s an amazing transformation… and at the base of it was technological change.

    WCR embodies this same philosophy and approach to use agricultural technology. It’s funny that we would be presumed to be hiding behind facades of ‘social fashion’ with ulterior motives, when in fact we’re facing the very real problems of the coffee sector head on. Climate Change is a very real and grave problem and we have a real program to mitigate the effects of it on farmer lives and the entire supply chain. Biodiversity is a very real problem and we have a real program to conserve the germplasm for future generations and to use that biodiversity to benefit of farmers, the environment, and consumers. We are not underwritten by corporate agriculture. We are a 501 c5 non-profit agricultural organization that is 100% transparent and well intentioned.

    Although we feel like we have taken into consideration the small holder farmer, (a segment of the supply chain with which I have worked intimately and who represents over 50% of total arabica produced), we are open to ideas and concepts that others may have that can help us improve our program to the benefit of the producer. Michael is right to point out that if we intend on extending new technologies to small holders then we must understand the nuances and constraints faced by the small holder. This is exactly the reason we created the Accelerated Productivity Enhancement program which aims to develop the partnerships and strategies necessary to get the technologies to the farmers who need and want it. We will work with producer groups, government extension agencies, NGOs, private companies, and donor organizations at local, regional and national levels to make it happen at the level of the small holder farmer. This is an area where WCR will seek direct collaboration with CRS to the benefit of the small holder farmer in those countries where we both work.

    Thanks again for your well intentioned concern. Please do not hesitate to contact me for other information or concerns regarding World Coffee Research.

    Sincerely,

    Tim Schilling
    WCR Executive Director

    • Michael Sheridan says:

      Tim:

      Thank you for your generous comment and for reminding us of your credentials and record of achievement with smallholder farmers. The PEARL Project in Rwanda is a reference point for all of us and has been the source of much justified celebration.

      Thank you, also, for the commitment to seek opportunities for collaboration in the field with CRS. I have noted with satisfaction the references in recent WCR documents, and in your response here, to collaboration with development agencies an other field actors around technology adoption. We have collaborated effectively with CIAT and other research centers in the past to help bring “high technology” to smallholder farmers “low” on the food system totem pole.

      Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

      Michael

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS