Biodiversity, conservation to build on center’s reputation for excellence
COLLEGE STATION – Dr. Tom Lacher will become director of the Center for Coffee Research and Education, part of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University in College Station, effective Aug. 15.
Lacher brings an extensive research background in conservation and biodiversity, which will help propel the center into new educational opportunities and address current challenges facing coffee farmers globally, said Dr. Elsa Murano, Borlaug Institute director.
“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Lacher serving as the next leader of our center,” Murano said. “Coffee is at the nexus of food production and nature conservation like no other agricultural crop. Dr. Lacher’s expertise in biodiversity hits at the heart of agricultural sustainability, with coffee as the perfect platform.”
Murano said through Lacher’s leadership the center will be able to connect the role of coffee production in elevating farmers out of poverty and hunger while sustaining the planet for generations to come.
Lacher is currently a professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science at Texas A&M University and has previously served as department head. Prior to joining the A&M faculty in 2007, he served as senior vice president and executive director for the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International based in Arlington, Virginia.
As new center director, Lacher will oversee a diverse portfolio of research projects that includes work in Central American countries.
“I am looking forward to helping guide the center and continuing its tradition of premier, international coffee research,” Lacher said. “We have the expertise to assist growers in adapting new technology to enhance quality and yields, which will boost incomes in developing countries.”
Leaf rust education will be one of the focus areas, Lacher said.
Dr. Leo Lombardini, who has served as center director since its inception in 2016, will become head of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia Sept. 1.
“Dr. Lombardini has been an incredibly effective leader, having built our center from scratch by assembling an outstanding team of collaborating scientists and educators at Texas A&M,” Murano said. “I have no doubt that Dr. Lombardini will excel in his new position. He is a motivational leader and an outstanding colleague. We will miss him greatly. The University of Georgia has gained a tremendous asset for their agriculture program.”
Coffee is a cash crop for farmers in Central America, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. The center has led an extensive education program in Central America with an emphasis on combating leaf rust, a fungus that affects foliar development of coffee leaves. The education programs have been designed to help increase yields, and improve quality and sustainability, Murano said.
“All of these educational efforts are targeted to enable coffee farmers to adapt to changes in climate and environment,” she said.
The center’s next major focal point will be to lead educational activities in addressing conservation and biodiversity. Lacher’s previous research projects in Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil will complement the proposed research activities in building a targeted educational outreach program.
“We have the expertise regarding agricultural technologies to improve yield and quality of coffee,” Murano said. “Now we must target emerging issues such as biodiversity and changing environmental dynamics to further preserve sustainability of production and the livelihoods of these cash farmers.”
The Center for Coffee Research and Education was established by the Board of Regents of Texas A&M University in September 2016. Since then, it has been striving to enhance the growth of the coffee industry through research and capacity building. Focusing on two main pillars of research and education, the center not only sponsors university classes but also sends students — from undergraduate to doctoral — abroad to conduct studies and learn about the roasting process.
For more about the center, visit https://coffee.tamu.edu/.