Could AI and Data Help Nestlé Make Coffee Climate Resilient?

Nestlé experts are developing a database and using AI to select and breed climate-resilient plants to make coffee farming sustainable

Scientists at Nestlé are building a database with the help of artificial intelligence to find and breed a new range of sustainable and climate-resilient coffee plants.

With climate change threatening coffee cultivation, Nestlé is looking at how advanced data science and AI can be used to make it more future-proof.

Arabica: The less tolerant coffee

There are more than 120 species of coffee, but around 70% of the world's coffee production is arabica.

A Nestlé statement said: “However, arabica has a lower tolerance to rising temperatures and is more susceptible to disease than other coffee plants, such as robusta.

“Additionally, climate change is reducing the amount of arable land it is possible to cultivate coffee on and water shortages are significantly reducing yields.”

It added: “To help ensure a sustainable future for coffee cultivation, and support farmer livelihoods, Nestlé plant scientists are exploring new, higher yielding arabica varieties with greater resistance to disease and drought.”

Putting arabica on the map

As part of this work, the experts have developed a high quality arabica reference genome using advanced data science methods.

The reference genome, which is available in a publicly available digital database, makes it easier to analyse different traits of coffee varieties to identify specific traits such as better yield, coffee cherry size and greater resilience to disease or drought, as well as flavour or aroma characteristics.

Jeroen Dijkman, Head of Nestlé's Institute of Agricultural Sciences, said: "In simple terms, our new reference is like a high-quality map of a big city. It will help us identify key genetic markers in the arabica genome that are responsible for specific traits in adult plants."

State-of-the-art

Patrick Descombes, Senior Expert in Genomics at Nestlé Research, said: "While other public references for arabica do exist, the quality of our team's work is extremely high.

“We used state-of-the-art genomics approaches to create an advanced, complete and continuous arabica reference."

Patrick Descombes, Senior Expert in Genomics at Nestlé Research

The work was co-directed with the French National Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), alongside partners including Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, University of São Paulo, Brazil, University at Buffalo, USA, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda, University of Helsinki, Finland, University of Leipzig, Germany, Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University, USA, and VIB-UGent Centre for Plant Systems Biology, Belgium.

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