Brussels, 24 October 2006
It may come as no surprise that European researchers are applying their expertise to coffee production. Europe is home to more coffee drinkers per capita than any other region in the world and, logically enough, home to the port that handles the most tonnes of coffee per year (Hamburg, in northern Germany). Specifically, scientists have helped develop models to regulate light intensity in function to different coffee species in Central America. The work was carried out as part of the EU-funded CASCA project, which studied the ways small scale Central American growers could survive in a market plagued by overproduction.
The four-year project, which recently came to a close, studied production in three countries: Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua. They looked at several different research areas, such as farmers' knowledge and practices, and the environmental impact of coffee production.
After some preliminary research, project members discovered that growers' knowledge of shading tree density in relation to a specific type of coffee plant was rather lacking. The amount of shade a coffee plant receives is an important factor in determining the quality of bean that plant produces. The scientists developed models to help farmers regulate proper light intensities to raise the overall quality of the coffee produced.
Their work showed that shade plays a role comparable to that of altitude. Shade creates the proper conditions that favours berry growth, and produces a bean with considerable added value. Crops that are grown under the conditions suggested by researchers produce a smaller harvest, though one with a more stable yield and, perhaps most importantly, better quality.
Scientists also studied the wider environmental effects coffee production had on the delicate mountain ecosystems of Meso-America, which are centres of biodiversity. They identified how their shading system affected soil fertility, in addition to developing low impact fertilisers.
They noticed that the increased presence of shading trees led to an increased amount of carbon in the biomass, soil litter and the soil, giving credence to the argument that agro-forestry systems play an important role in managing carbon levels in the environment.
The CASCA project findings are expected to provide the basis for another EU-funded project, Cafnet, a rural research and development project involving coffee producers and stakeholders in the sector. CASCA was carried out by CIRAD, The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK), Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Enseñanza (Costa Rica), Programa Cooperativo Regional para el Desarrollo Tecnológico y Modernización de la Caficultura en Centroamérica (Dominican Republic and Jamaica), and the National Agricultural University of Nicaragua.