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  • The Impact of Coffee Production on the Forest Ecosystem

    It has happened far too often in the past: people want to take land and convert it into something “economically productive.” So men with chainsaws are hired to cut down the forests and clear the land. And it continues to happen today.

    A recently published research report in Kenya shows that the wild animal population in the Nairobi National Park is fast disappearing. Its wildebeests have been so decimated they are at the point of extinction. The reason? Their habitat is being turned into farms producing sugar and other crops.

    When you ask whether economic forces can be tapped for biodiversity conservation, it is not always easy to answer the question. The answer would depend a lot on how we characterise the value of nature. There are various biophysical, socioeconomic, and ethical factors to take into consideration.

    We know instinctively that the benefits of native ecosystems to society are immense. But the value of these benefits has not been quantified except for a few services, such as carbon sequestration and water flow.

    Growing Coffee Trees and the Forest Ecosystem

    A study conducted on coffee production at a coffee plantation in Costa Rica that sought to measure the economic contribution of a forest ecosystem to the coffee plantation may help to change our perspective about forests and farms.

    The research tried to derive an estimate of the economic value of the forest ecosystem’s crop pollination services. It should interest you to know that approximately two-thirds of the crop species in the world require pollination by insects, of which the more widely known species are bees.

    Bee populations, both managed and wild varieties, have been on the decline — at such alarming rates that the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the Food and Agriculture Organization have created the International Pollinators Initiative. This program seeks to coordinate scientific investigation and to promote conservation of pollinator populations. If more people learn about the economic value of the ecosystem, they might be more willing to participate actively in its conservation (perhaps even businessmen).

    So many studies have shown that wild bees are huge contributors to the pollination process in many crops, as effectively as managed bees. However, in order to keep wild bee populations humming, their forest habitats need to be conserved.

    Coffee Crops are Vulnerable to Loss of Bees

    The researchers chose to measure the effects of crop pollination services on coffee, one of the five most valuable agricultural crops. The coffee industry employs 25 million people all over the world, mostly in developing nations, and is grown in regions with great biodiversity.

    Coffee is actually able to pollinate itself, and you might say it should have no need for crop pollination services. Perhaps not, but coffee farmers have long known that bee visitations can improve yields up to 50% compared to coffee areas without bee visits. It is also known that the farther the coffee plant is from the bees’ native habitat, the lower is the visitation rate, and the decline has important effects on yields.

    The Presence of Bees Results in Greater Coffee Production

    The researchers reported that the forests actually made the coffee farm more productive and more profitable by at least 20 percent. The researchers also estimated that incremental income to be about $129 per hectare per year, which was 7% of the regular farm income per hectare. This was for one farm alone, since the study did not cover other farms near the same forest patches.

    With that kind of economic contribution, people should reexamine their attitudes towards forests and try working towards a more optimum balance between farm use and forest use. And businessmen now have a way of calculating in their profit and loss statements the economic value to them of conserving forest ecosystems.

    Taylor H. Ricketts, et al: PNAS , August 24, 2004, vol. 101 , pg 12579–12582