Coffee symposium to give growers a boost

From the print edition

Coffee and cancer, climate change and new developments in cultivation techniques of Arabica beans are a few of the topics billed for discussion at the Association for Science and Information on Coffee’s (ASIC) international coffee symposium, to be held in San José the week of Nov. 11 at the Ramada Plaza Herradura.

The event will mark the first time the coffee conference specialists will meet in Central America, and only the third time in Latin America since the association’s Parisian inception in 1966.

“This places Costa Rica on the map as one of the most important coffee producers in the world,” said Agriculture and Livestock Vice Minister Xinia Chaves.

Organized by the French Institute of Coffee and Cacao, the idea is for coffee specialists to meet every two years around the world to discuss scientific developments in the field, as well as technological development of cultivation techniques in order to support coffee plantations worldwide.

ASIC expects as many as 300 scientists and academics to attend a series of seminars that include more than 450 presentations delivered by participants from 30 different countries.

One expert that will be in attendance is Coffee Institute of Costa Rica’s (ICAFE) Fabian Echeverría, a scientist from the Program for the Genetic Improvement of Coffee. Echeverría said it is important to find genetic solutions to many diseases coffee plantations often face. In 2007, an epidemic of ojo de gallo, a fungus that causes coffee cherries to rot, affected almost half of Costa Rican coffee plantations, prompting the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry to appeal to coffee producers to find new ways to fight the problem. 

“It is important to evaluate different types of coffee and find genetic sequences in particular plants that determine which proteins or enzymes retain the problem, to better protect the crop for our growers,” Echeverría said.

Coffee farming employs more than 102,000 Costa Ricans, according to ICAFE, which hosted a press conference and coffee tasting on Monday to promote the event. Still, the number has been decreasing in recent years as young workers abandon the labor-intensive jobs and move to cities for better-paying positions or to study. 

As a result, Costa Rica is nows the smallest coffee-producing country in Central America, with production dropping 30 percent in the last decade.

Ronald Peters, executive director of ICAFE, stressed the importance of keeping up with new developments in cultivation technology, saying, “In Costa Rica, coffee is expensive to produce and difficult to make competitive, and we must rely more heavily on the most advanced technology possible so that production is profitable.”

These new developments will be integral to protecting one of Costa Rica’s most important exports, and in doing so, will defend the large number of workers who depend on the crop to make a living.

“For this reason,” Chaves said, “this is an important opportunity not only for academics, but also for coffee growers.”