Photo by Dan Bolton/STiR Tea & Coffee
Planted in 1932, all that remains is this barrel in which c. arabica Bullata No. 3221-1 once thrived. The tree, discovered in Indonesia and transported to the IAC’s germplasm bank in Brazil, shows a unique genetic trait, manifesting as either a hexaloid 2n = 66 (or octaloid). Bullata merited a chapter in the work of P.J.S. Cramer (1879-1952) who was director of coffee research in Indonesia at Buitensorg, Java. The tree perished due to a lack of funding brought by the current financial crisis in Brazil. STiR Tea & Coffee is working to preserve this resource.
Growers and roasters around the world are familiar with coffee varietals mundo novo and catuaí. How about icatu, obata, tupi, red caturra, yellow caturra, and yellow bourbon?
All are Brazilian and each owes its existance to the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas. The IAC was founded 128 years ago by the Portuguese emperor D. Pedro II in 1887.
Among its greatest treasures is a coffee germplasm bank dating to 1929.
“Initially, different varietals of arabica were collected from different regions in Brazil. At that time, they were: típica, amarelo de botucatu, bourbon vermelho, sumatra, maragogipe, and caturra. From these plants, several variations/mutations were encountered in the fields and brought to Campinas,” explains IAC researcher, Gerson Giomo.
A genetic enhancement program was started in 1932 when hundreds of coffee plants from other countries arrived for study. The resulting 80 years of published research represents a huge scientific legacy, useful in Brazil and elsewhere.
“Red catuaí and red caturra, for example, are largely grown in Central America. And obata is in the process of implementation in Costa Rica,” explains Giomo. “It is estimated that 90% of Brazil’s 4.3 billion trees are derived from cultivars developed by IAC,” he said.
In the past century the institute has developed 66 commercial arabica cultivars and one robusta varietal. IAC oversees the largest and most active germplasm bank in Brazil, with 16 species, a diversity of mutants, botanical forms, and exotic varieties originated by the diversification of c. arabica and c. canephora. A total of 5,451 germplasm accessions and 30,000 plants are under the care of the state of São Paulo.
“It is important to highlight that all genetic enhancement research was financed by the federal and state government. Our institution does not profit from the knowledge produced,” explains Giomo. For this reason, most of its technology is free for others to use.
Unfortunately the current political and economic crisis places the bank in jeopardy. A funding shortall during the past 5 years limited maintenance, culminating in the current precarious situation for this irreplaceable collection. Researchers have done their best to care for the trees but recent retirements and a shortage of labor has forced the IAC board of directors to seek funds to prevent further erosion of the genetic pool essential for scientific and technological research. “We are seeking public and private partnership with several sectors that, direct or indirectly, have benefited from technology produced by IAC,” explains Giomo. - Kelly Stein
STiR Tea & Coffee is working with coffee industry leaders to assist. Write Dan Bolton at firstname.lastname@example.org to help us.