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Nestlé scientists discover unique low carbon and drought resistant coffee varieties

Coffee farmer

With the company committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, Nestlé last year published a roadmap laying out how it will achieve the goal. Reducing the carbon footprint of key agricultural raw materials such as cocoa, milk and coffee, will play a vital role.

In a major breakthrough, Nestlé plant scientists have developed a new generation of low carbon coffee varieties, through classical non-GMO breeding and by harnessing the plant's natural biodiversity. Compared to standard varieties, the two new Robusta varieties deliver up to 50% higher yields per tree. Because more coffee can be produced using the same amount of land, fertilizer and energy, the result is an up to 30% reduction in the CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) footprint of the green coffee beans. Since green beans account for 40-80% of the CO2e emissions of a cup of coffee, these breakthrough varieties significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with coffee consumption.

One of these new Robusta varieties with up to 50% higher yields has already been successfully trialed on fields and is now being grown by farmers in Central America. Ultimately, such new varieties will help farmers earn a better living by enabling them to grow more high-quality coffee on the same amount of land, sustainably, and with a lower carbon footprint.

Similarly, Nestlé is developing new higher-yielding Arabica varieties that are also bred to be more resistant to 'coffee leaf rust' – a plant disease that has devastated coffee plantations across the Americas. This also contributes to a higher yield while using the same amount of fertilizer and land.

Furthermore, Nestlé plant scientists have also developed a drought-resistant coffee variety, currently being trialed on fields in Central Africa, that delivers up to 50% higher yields per plant under moderate to severe water stress. This will support the continuation of coffee cultivation in regions impacted by climate change.

Nestlé CTO Stefan Palzer says: "Thanks to the expertise of our plant scientists in selection and classical breeding, and by leveraging our rich collection of coffee varieties, we were able to develop this new generation of low carbon and drought-resistant coffee plants. In doing so, we will contribute significantly to the reduction of CO2e emissions associated with coffee consumption. We will also enable farmers in regions affected by climate change to continue to produce great coffee."

Work on new plant varieties is led by the Nestlé Research center for plant sciences in Tours, France. Through classical breeding, the scientists continuously develop improved coffee varieties which are then tested on the company's experimental farms in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Finally, the new plantlets are proliferated and distributed to farmers globally through Nestlé's sustainable sourcing programs and partnerships with local agricultural institutes and cooperatives.

Since 2011, Nestlé has distributed 235 million high-performing coffee plantlets through the Nescafé Plan, and the new varieties are being included in this sustainable sourcing program. Similarly, the Nespresso AAA Program is committed to improving coffee quality and sustainability, working with farmers to improve the yield and quality of their harvests, while protecting the environment and improving their livelihoods, paying premium prices and investing in coffee infrastructures.

Discover the inside story: A breakthrough in coffee breeding