Genetics, Potato and Trade

December 4th, 2010

A bit of a mixed post here: A couple of charts here I wanted to post as a quick Saturday afternoon thing, and perhaps they each merit a post of their own. The reason they don’t get one is my limited understanding of the subjects involved. I might have some pet theories, but more comprehension is required!

First up is a screengrab from the presentation of Dr Petiard at the GCQRI. My understanding of genetics is limited, though slowly improving. Nonetheless, I think this chart makes the lack of genetic diversity within popular coffee cultivars extremely obvious. It is mostly a good thing, such huge possibilities within the genetic makeup of coffee arabica that is unexplored.

However, the possibilities for widespread devastion from disease – be it natural or an act of agroterrorism – are somewhat disconcerting.

Click to embiggen

A few people have recommended Simon Mawer’s “Gregor Mendel: Planting the Seeds of Genetics” as a good introduction to the subject, but any other suggested reading is welcome!

For those who want to have a look through the GCQRI presentations the info is up here. I hope most people have also seen this announcement from the GCQRI concerning the potato defect. Getting a little closer to erradicating this particularly upsetting defect is a very good thing!

The other chart is the result of me digging through some old International Coffee Organisation (ICO) data on their site. I had been there because I wanted to better understand the International Coffee Agreements from the past. I think most of us are aware the coffee industry doesn’t have a golden reputation for economic ethics. Some of that is linked to the massive price crash when the ICA’s dissolved, and I think many coffee people of my generation lack an understanding of coffee’s history from a trade and economic perspective. We’re quite familiar with the ideas of modern ethical sourcing and trade, but these new approaches to sourcing are rooted in ideas that were the result of coffee’s past.

I’m getting off topic. I was looking at production data for the world from 2000 to 2009. This number is absolutely everything produced, good and bad, arabica and robusta 1. The average price of all coffee is a difficult thing, and I was curious about the potential turnover of producers worldwide. In the end I used the ICO indicator price 2, multiplied by pounds of coffee produced to get a figure. While initially turnover and production seem to match (as logic would dictate), this figure didn’t really seem to continue to track and they sharply diverge. What is hard to figure in, along with production and demand (in terms of price) is consumption. The bit of data that did seem to correlate more turned out to be stocks of coffee at origin.

Click to embiggen

I’m not really sure if I have a point to this – other than to accept that the above is a gross simplification.  However, I hope this marks a jumping off point for me where coffee trade starts to make more sense and my understanding of the wider world of coffee gets better.

Again, if people have some good suggested reading on the subject I would be very grateful! (Also – suggestions of any OSX software for producing better looking graphs and charts would be nice…)

  1. I had to use pounds of coffee produced to get the numbers to work, instead of the usual “000s of bags produced”  ↩︎
  2. In their own words, “The ICO composite indicator price, a historical series which can be extended back to 1947, provides an overall benchmark for the price of green coffee of all major origins and type, considered to be the best available measure of levels of green coffee transactions on a global basis.”  ↩︎

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