In what could provide a fresh impetus to the research activities in the country’s coffee sector, State-run Coffee Board is planning to focus on developing new varieties that will be resistant to the changing climatic patterns.

Coffee growers in the country have been facing the brunt of changing climatic patterns in the recent years. The number of extreme weather events such as the excess rains within a short period or deficit rainfall impacting the growers are on the rise.

“With the climate change here to stay, one new line of research we are starting is how do we develop the climate resistant coffee varieties, which perform the same whether it is drought or floods. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has shown interest. They have technology that can help us in better understanding the climate change, using which our scientists can breed better varieties,” said KG Jagadeesha, CEO and Secretary, Coffee Board.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Coffee Board and ISRO is being signed next week with regard to breeding climate-resilient varieties and assess the carbon sequestration potential in coffee among others.

Germplasm collection

The plant related research activities under the Board are carried out by the Central Coffee Research Institute (CCRI) in Chikmagaluru district of Karnataka in the areas of plant breeding, agronomy, agriculture chemistry and soil science, plant physiology, pathology, entomology and post harvest technology among others. CCRI has a network of research stations in Kodagu, Visakahpatnam, Wayanad, Dindigul and Karbi Anglong districts across the major coffee growing regions.  So far, the focus of research and breeding in coffee, has been on improving yields and developing resistance to pests and diseases. “We have never tested them for climate resistance,” Jagadeesha said adding that the breeding will be from the existing germplasm collection in the country.

“We have a good germplasm collection of coffees in our main research centres at Balehonnur and five other sub centres. Besides, we can also source the germ plasm from old varieties in some old estates. Our scientists will finalise what are the qualities, characters of the plant that will lend climate resistance character to the coffee plants and look at breeding them using techniques such as marker assisted breeding,” Jagadeesha said.

The Board will be making an outlay for the investments required in taking up the collaborative research with ISRO, which will also focus on assessing carbon sequestration potential in the coffee growing regions.

India is one of the very few countries, where coffee is grown under the tree shade, unlike major producers such as Brazil and Vietnam, where it is grown in the open.

“Coffee releases carbon, but it is a net carbon-deficit crop. When coffee is grown under two tier shade of trees and under integrated cropping system, all we can say that it is carbon sink. There is no scientific data to show that how much carbon is sequestered. ISRO has technology to figure out how much carbon is released and how much is absorbed by the plants. ISRO will install the technology in one of our technology evaluation centres at our farms and monitor the data for next two years. Such data on carbon sequestration will help our growers command a premium in markets like Europe,” Jagadeesha said.