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Exploring coffee genetic resources for the Pacific Islands

This Small Research Activity aims to evaluate whether coffee, as a high-value product of agroforestry systems, can diversify livelihood opportunities, especially for women, in rural communities in the Pacific islands.
Coffee was introduced to the Pacific islands as a commercial export crop, and a reasonably successful plantation-based industry survives in both Vanuatu and Tonga. Coffee survives in Fiji and Samoa as a semi-wild plant in forests (or in small, scarcely managed plantings); the originally imported varieties (arabica, robusta, liberica) have become inextricably mixed and hybridised locally.
Ethically based businesses developed value chains and niche markets based on 'wild-harvested' coffee which women collect, providing rural communities with a new source of income. These coffees' unique characteristics and background 'story' may help sell it, but small quantities and variable quality limit market development. The businesses have sought ACIAR's help to better characterise the material already grown in-country, to obtain varieties better adapted to local (lowland) conditions while still offering good quality, and to strengthen local supply chains.
The project will sample coffee plants in Fiji and Vanuatu, and candidate materials in nearby countries (Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia) that may share genetic resources, focusing on varieties suitable for lowland conditions. It will genotype materials (DNA fingerprinting), assess phenotype, and assess the coffee beans for quality. Coffee industry stakeholders from the target countries will go on a study tour, probably in Java, to see a more developed industry with agroforestry- and community-based value chains for lowland coffee. Participation in the characterization research and in-country activities to strengthen local value chains will build capacity.
Information on coffee genetic resources and community-based lowland coffee value chain will help to develop the industry in Fiji and Vanuatu. The project should improve the livelihoods of women in rural communities through developing an ethical and inclusive industry.