“Have you considered the price of not doing coffee research?”
This is the question I was first asked as I sat down with Dr. Vincent Petiard to discuss GCQRI coffee research. A candid speaker and esteemed researcher, Dr. Petiard has been in the coffee and cocoa business for over a quarter of a century. Originally a breeder, Dr. Petiard became involved in the coffee industry through his work with Nestle.
Now, Dr. Petiard is executive VP of Nature Source Genetics a company he co-founded with two scientists from plant breeding at Cornell University. He also accepted to serve as the Technical Committee Chairperson for the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative (GCQRI). In our conversation, he briefed me on the progress of the GCQRI research agenda and Technical Committee while explaining the urgency of beginning collaborative research.
“It is important to know that GCQRI is not a 6-month program; this is a long-term project. You cannot improve the situation within 6 months, but not beginning now is really putting the future of the crop at risk.” Dr. Petiard is concerned by the threats to the coffee industry – the competition with other more profitable tropical crops, the effects of climate change and threat of pandemic catastrophe combined with the existing paucity in research raise fear about the future of the coffee industry. Dr. Petiard puts it bluntly, “No crop, no business. More expansive crop, less business. I’m sorry to be so brutal but that’s the reality of the situation.”
To mitigate these risks and improve quality, GCQRI has begun to develop its technical advisory committee which will carry out research that is collaborative in nature. When asked about the benefits of collaborative research, Dr. Petiard responded by first offering a distinction between competitive and precompetitive issues. “Precompetitive” issues are those issues which are universal to all stake holders such as the risk of shortage, increasing productivity and increasing the livelihood of coffee growers. Therefore, with precompetitive issues, sharing the cost of research between companies is for the benefit of everyone. However, a “competitive” issue might be a certain flavor compound unique to one coffee company who will not share that information with other companies.
Upon determining what quality is, Dr. Petiard asserts we must understand what is making the quality – is it genetic, the environment, post harvest treatment, or is it the roasting? “And this is where we have to make things quite clear. Each of these phases may influence the quality and each of them could be optimized. However, we very well know that variety is a prerequisite. You will never get a good quality from a bad variety just by using a good environment, post harvest practices and roasting. You cannot get something that didn’t exist at the beginning.”