Research: Puerto Rican shade coffee and biodiversity

by on March 11, 2012

ResearchBlogging.orgShade-grown coffee in Puerto Rico: Opportunities to preserve biodiversity while reinvigorating a struggling agricultural commodity. Borkhataria, Collazo, Groom, and Jordan-Garcia. 2012. Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment.

Even though coffee was first planted in Puerto Rico in 1736, we don’t hear much about it. In part, this is because much of the coffee grown there is consumed there. Still, coffee was PR’s major crop in the early 1800s, but hurricanes, high labor costs, low yields and other problems diminished its importance. Government support has been largely responsible for its persistence, and this included recommendations to increase yield by converting to sun coffee in the late 1980s, with any “shade” farms directed to use widely spaced trees and total shade not exceeding 30%. According to agricultural statistics summarized in the first paper noted above, there were 15,144 ha of coffee in PR in 2007 on over 5,600 farms which averaged 20 ha.  Over 69% of this land was characterized as sun coffee.

Authors also surveyed a random sample of 100 coffee farmers (nearly all of which answered the questions regarding shade). A third of the farmers considered their coffee shade coffee, and another 21% said they had both shade and sun coffee. However, when evaluated by the surveyors, the actual number of farms that could be considered traditional or polyculture shade was only 8%. This points out the clear problem of a lack of an agreed-upon definition of “shade”!

Most PR coffee farmers receive some sort of governmental assistance, often in the form of fertilizers. One farmer interviewed said he preferred to grow under shade, but grew a few hectares of coffee in sun in order to have access to incentives. About 70% of the farmers said they’d be willing to plant shade trees if they were encouraged by the government and if shade trees were provided to them.

The authors recommended government practices which would help promote production that protected biodiversity, took advantage of markets that favored sustainable agriculture, and made incentives were more available to farmers wishing to grow shade coffee.

Borkhataria, R., Collazo, J., Groom, M., & Jordan-Garcia, A. (2012). Shade-grown coffee in Puerto Rico: Opportunities to preserve biodiversity while reinvigorating a struggling agricultural commodity Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 149, 164-170 DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2010.12.023

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Revised on March 23, 2014

Posted in Coffee regions,Research on coffee growing

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