ICAFE: the FDA of Coffee

Today we visited the ICAFE in Costa Rica. The ICAFE is the Institute of Costa Rican Coffee and its job is to monitor, research, and inform all things coffee for Costa Rican farmers. Much of their research and development is going into creating a fungus resistant, more productive, and higher quality coffee plants. Not only this, but they also analyze soil compositions sent in from farmers and give them advice for the amount of fertilizer to use, when to use pesticides, and using techniques to increase yield while decreasing environmental strain. The ICAFE is an enormous help to the Costa Rican farmers. Without the institute, many farmers would be left without vital knowledge on how and when to tend to their crops.

The ICAFE is working on developing technologies and techniques that will revolutionize the way coffee is grown and researched. For example, a machine with the ability to scan coffee, without damaging the actual beans, is used at the ICAFE labs. While it is useful to show the chemical composition of the bean, sugars, proteins, and other organic molecules, a more accurate machine is needed for more accurate readings. Other technologies include a DNA analyzer and the ability to identify certain genes in the coffee genome to make stronger plants. Chromatography  is also used to identify the chemical composition of the bean’s caffeine and other important aspects of the plant. ICAFE is pioneering the way in creating stronger plants by hybridizing different breeds of the plant, mutating coffee plants, and other tests to reveal what things make a coffee plant more resistant to external stresses.

Coffee farmers are reliant on the ICAFE to tell them when and how to do certain things throughout the growing season. During the season, coffee farmers seek help when there is an outbreak of a fungus, a lower production than expected, or just simply advice on how to supplement their soil. The ICAFE monitors the weather during the season and predicts times when outbreaks of disease are more likely. It is during these times that the ICAFE informs farmers to give their coffee plants fungicide, herbicide, or pesticide to prevent massive crop death. Without the ICAFE many coffee plantations would suffer massive losses to external factors.

Large producers, however, may not want help from the ICAFE. Perhaps the large producer prefers to keep their soil a certain way because it is favorable to say that their coffee is grown with traditional methods rather than new ones supplied from the ICAFE. Another situation could be that this large producer works with a large foreign company, such as Starbucks, that likes their coffee grown in a very specific way. Therefore, to keep the large buyer of their product happy, the producer does not want the help from the ICAFE, rather they would ask their buyer, such as Starbucks, for help. The ICAFE, while not always used by every producer, provides invaluable information to the coffee producers in Costa Rica.


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