Nestlè distributes mass-produced robusta clones

by JulieCraves on June 24, 2008

A report recently announced that Nestlè’s research and development facility in France has developed clones of Robusta coffee plants specific to particular countries. They are distributing them to “countless coffee growers across the globe.” These producers are suppliers of green beans to Nestlè’s instant coffee division, Nescafe, and the plants are developed to increase yield and income.

Each plant is genetically identical, as they are produced in a lab by somatic embryogenesis, a form of tissue culture. Therefore, should a pest, disease, or pathogen infect a farm planted with a particular clone of coffee plant, it is likely to wipe out every genetically identical tree on the farm, as well as every genetically identical tree planted within reach of the infection.

Tissue culture is not uncommon in agriculture, or even in coffee production. But as this statement in an article on the American Phytopathological Society web site succinctly states,

“The modern emphasis on monoculture of  genetically identical crops,
commercial propagation, and worldwide distribution of improved
varieties increases the likelihood that a chance infection will lead to
the development of a disease epidemic and the attendant crop losses.”

One only needs to look at the Irish potato famine, Dutch elm disease, southern corn leaf blight, or the current banana crisis for examples of the dangers of genetic homogenization. The dichotomy in the coffee industry is quite amazing. On the one hand, this mass production of identical plants, geared toward high yield and profits in instant coffee. On the other, a push to save wild varieties of coffee, and the pursuit of beautiful microlots and unique tastes by true coffee lovers. I know which “hand” I’m in!

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Revised on March 1, 2015

Posted in Corporate coffee,Nestlé’/Nespresso

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