Sustainability-Intensification Trade-offs in Coffee Agroforestry in Central America

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: Agriculture Health & Environment, FES

Abstract

Demand for increasing agricultural production, from existing land area, requires the intensification of production. At the same time there is a need for increased sustainability, both in terms of sustaining crop productivity under conditions of climate and market variation, and maintaining ecosystem services to humanity in general. Agroforestry systems have been posed as a way to combine productive land-use with environmental sustainability. Coffee agri-systems vary from intensive monoculture plantations to forest-like coffee agroforests and thus provide a model system to evaluate the trade-offs and potential synergies between intensification and sustainability. Coffee agri-systems will be compared in two countries in Central America, Costa Rica where production has been more intensive even within agroforestry systems and Guatemala where traditional coffee agroforestry systems predominate. A long-term coffee agroforestry experiment was established in Costa Rica in 2000 comparing different agroforestry shade trees and coffee monoculture under different levels of agronomic inputs. Provisioning, supporting and indicators of regulating ecosystem services will be evaluated in this experiment and on 60-80 coffee farms in each country representing different typologies of coffee production. The typologies will cover a range of intensity of production (levels of fertilizer use) and sustainability (levels of shade trees). This will evaluate the capacity of each system to provide supporting services (light, nutrients and water) to sustain production and a coffee agroforestry model will estimate regulating services of greenhouse gas sequestration or emissions, and water balance and quality. The coffee agroforestry model will also generate estimates of the response of the different agri-systems to varying levels of inputs and climate conditions. These will be compared to farmer reported effects of climate and market variations and used to inform an economic sensitivity analysis of each production typology. Environmental footprints in terms of carbon, water and biodiversity will be calculated and assessed against those that would be provided by forest. These will then enable an analysis of economic and environmental trade-offs of "land-sharing" (more sustainable but lower productivity larger land area) and "land-sparing" (high productivity lower sustainability but release of land to forest) scenarios. Ultimately a Trade-off Model will be applied that integrates productive, environmental, social and economic data to assess the likely adoption of different agri-systems across a population of farmers under different market and climate conditions, and the economic and environmental outcomes. These results will inform the best strategies and support for farmers to enable sustainable productive livelihoods while meeting the product demands of markets and environmental demands of society.

Technical Summary

There are competing scientific discourses in sustainable agricultural development. One is the need for sustainable intensification of agricultural production increasing productivity while maintaining ecosystem services. This aligns with the land-sparing hypothesis that, to maximise land for biodiversity and environment, productivity of existing agricultural land needs to be increased. Against this, the agroecology discourse promotes the use of ecological principals to sustain agricultural productivity with minimal use of external inputs seen as damaging to health and the environment, but also more resilient to climate variability. This may lead to less productive but more environmentally beneficial agriculture or a land-sharing modality. Coffee agri-systems present a good model to test the productive, economic, environmental and social trade-offs between different modalities of agricultural development. The research builds on a unique 20-year old coffee experiment contrasting monoculture and agroforestry under different inputs levels, expanding the comparisons to on-farm environmental and economic performance. The research brings together field measurements of productivity, use of light, water and nutrients with a coffee agroforestry model to assess carbon and water balance as well as productivity under different input and climate scenarios. The modelled outcomes will be used to conduct economic sensitivity analysis against climate and market variations. A trade-off model will be applied that integrates productive, economic, environmental and social parameters, and works with the variability in a population of farmers to assess the proportion of the population that will adopt sustainable or intensive practices, and the economic and environmental outcomes. Uniquely, we will apply this model across different market and climatic conditions to assess where sustainable or intensive production options provide greater resilience to these stresses.

Planned Impact

Farmers face the challenge of meeting multiple demands of buyers and consumers for a product and from society to be environmentally sustainable; whilst themselves experiencing challenges of a changing climate and volatile markets that threaten their livelihoods. At the same time, there are contradictory signals from government on the one hand promoting intensification of production while on the other greater sustainability and reduced environmental impact. Coffee farmers in Central America represent a case in point. Previously farmers intensified production to increase productivity, but latterly, in response to variable markets and the impacts of climate variation, there has been a tendency to return to traditional coffee agroforestry. While there is reasonable evidence of the broader environmental benefits of coffee agroforestry, there is little evidence as to whether these systems are more environmentally resilient. The proposed research aims evaluate the supporting ecosystem processes that underpin sustainable coffee production, and the provisioning and regulating ecosystem service outcomes. But additionally to evaluate the resilience of those outcomes to market and climate variation across different coffee agri-systems. Another trade-off is that if coffee agroforestry is more resilient it may be less productive, requiring more area to produce a given amount of coffee. That generates an additional trade-off in occupying more land that might otherwise be forest, delivering a broader set of ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation measures. The results of these trade-off analyses will be shared with coffee sector stakeholders including the national coffee institutes in Costa Rica and Guatemala, who are supporting the proposal, and enable them to better inform their strategies for carbon neutral coffee production (Costa Rica) and to increase resilience to climate variations (Guatemala). Outside the sector, results will be shared by national partners with the national climate change action plan committees of each country in which they participate, and potentially contribute to the forthcoming IPCC impact report in which one of the Co-I is a co-author. There is substantial concern in the coffee commercial sector, and NGOs who work with them, on how to increase resilience of coffee producers but little evidence as to what is effective. The PI has worked with UK coffee companies and NGOs and will share the results to help inform what systems of production should contribute to increased resilience or at least what the economic and environmental trade-offs are in making those decisions for farmers livelihoods but also for security of supply to coffee roasters and consumers. Ultimately the results should inform the ongoing debate in forums such as the Food and Climate Research Network on whether agricultural development should intensify production and spare land for the environment or opt for more sustainable production system providing ecosystems services but with a bigger land coverage.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Preliminary results from field work in Guatemala and Costa Rica indicate that a significant number of small-scale coffee farmers have abandoned coffee production. Coffee production is a critical economic activity for tens of thousands of smallholder farmers in these countries with limited alternative productive options due to the environmental fragility of the montane environment where they live. This confirms the relevance of the project's aim to understand the agronomic, economic and environmental characteristics of coffee farming systems that bring sustainability and resilience.
The project found that about a third of coffee farmers in Costa Rica and half in Guatemala were not covering their costs during the year of the survey. This underlines the reason why some farmers have been abandoning production. Analysis of coffee plantation environmental and economic performance found that the most productive farms were also those with good environmental characteristics. Those farms with very heavily shaded coffee (more forest-like) did tend to have lower productivity, but not necessarily lower profitability. Overall the lack of economic and environmental performance in some farms was due to a lack of capacity to invest by the farmers due to low prices.
Exploitation Route The results could be used by the coffee institutes, technical staff, farmers and coffee companies in Central America. But to achieve this will require engagement with those stakeholders to discuss the results with them. With our partners we still intend to hold a one-day virtual conference to disseminate and discuss results with stakeholders, but this will be at our expense, and in one-day limited as to the outcomes that can be achieved.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description The societal impact the project has contributed to has been through providing research findings to the partner organizations the Coffee Institute of Costa Rica and National Coffee Association of Guatemala. Stakeholder events were held with coffee farmers and technical advisors in both countries with the support of these organizations (virtually in the case of Guatemala), where farmers were provided with summaries of the research findings particularly those relating the sustainability aspects of coffee production. Also each farmer (90 in Costa Rica, 75 in Guatemala) was given a summary sheet of the results from their farm relative to the averages from their region. The project will contribute to SDGs 2 by seeking sustainable agricultural livelihoods; SDG 12 by enabling responsible production and consumption for a major commodity such as coffee; SDG 13 by providing supporting information for the Costa Rica and Guatemalan coffee sector NAMAs seeking to achieve carbon neutrality; and 15 evaluating the ecosystem services provided by coffee agri-systems to support the life-systems of earth. Gender Equality is sought across all levels of the project. Project Co-Is are seven male and five female, three of the women are DAC based researchers, all of whom participated in the development of the original proposal. The broader research team of research assistants and field assistants consists of eleven male and eight female staff. For the stakeholders in the Coffee Institutes our lead contacts the Environment Coordinator in ANACAFE of Guatemala and Information Management Unit in ICAFE Costa Rica are both women. As regards the farmers participating in the surveys the large majority are men, only 5 out of 180 farmers interviewed were women. Nevertheless, women do play an important role in the production of coffee, particularly at harvest, but also derive other products for the household from the coffee system such as firewood and fruits for home consumption. Additionally, in Guatemala about a third of coffee farmer participants are members of indigenous groups, although interestingly ethnicity was not found to be a significant factor in the ecological or economic performance of the farm.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Title Coffee Agroforestry Model 2021 
Description New version of the coffee agroforestry model allowing different kinds of trees: timber, legume, non-legume, fruit trees and bananas to be combined as shade for the coffee. Model outputs are productivity of coffee and trees, biomass, N and C dynamics and water cycle. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The model is only just released 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/5862195
 
Title Coffee agroforestry model CAF2014 
Description CAF2014 is a dynamic, process-based computer model for the simulation of productivity, biogeochemistry and erosion in coffee agroforestry systems. The model operates on a daily time step and assumes horizontal homogeneity. The model has vertical stratification in five layers: atmosphere - shade trees - coffee plants - soil - subsoil. The model simulates the flows of carbon, nitrogen and water between these layers. The model works on a daily time step and allows for analyzing the impact of weather, atmospheric CO2, choice of shade tree species and density, tree pruning, coffee pruning, fertilization and soil properties. Within the current project, the model code has been cleaned up and documented, and the model is now for the first time freely available online from the URL specified below. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We have made the model available online for free downloading, but only recently, so the impact of this availability is yet to come. The model itself has been used to analyse the predictability of coffee yields in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the impacts of management (paper under review). 
URL https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3608877
 
Description Costa Rica, Guatemala, UK reserach collaboration 
Organisation ANACAFE
Country Guatemala 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The project has been established as a research collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) based in Costa Rica, the Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies (CEAB) of the University of Valle in Guatemala, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), UK. Additional partners are the Coffee Institutes of Guatemala ANACAFE and Costa Rica - ICAFE who represent the coffee farmers and traders of these countries.
Collaborator Contribution Costa Rican and Guatemalan research collaborators, CATIE and CEAB have collaborated in the development of the field survey tools and implemented the field surveys among 180 coffee farmers. The CATIE Biostatistics group have been responsible for management and quality control of the project database. CATIE and CEAB have also been responsible for soil analysis in their respective soils labs. Researchers at both CATIE and CEAB have responsibility for analysis and interpretation of data for specific work packages. CEH have been responsible for the adaption of the coffee agroforestry model to on-farm coffee systems. Coffee Institute partners have supported access to farmers, provided orientation as to national demands, and provided access to meteorological data
Impact A joint paper has been reviewed by Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems on "Shade and agronomic intensification in coffee agroforestry systems: trade-off or synergy?" and moderate revisions submitted pending approval by the editor. The paper has co-authors from CATIE and CEAB as well as University of Greenwich. It is a multi-disciplinary paper with co-authors including ecologists, economists, agronomists and environmental scientists. A further paper on pest and diseases losses in coffee systems is in draft and led by CATIE.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Costa Rica, Guatemala, UK reserach collaboration 
Organisation Coffee Institute of Costa Rica
Country Costa Rica 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The project has been established as a research collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) based in Costa Rica, the Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies (CEAB) of the University of Valle in Guatemala, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), UK. Additional partners are the Coffee Institutes of Guatemala ANACAFE and Costa Rica - ICAFE who represent the coffee farmers and traders of these countries.
Collaborator Contribution Costa Rican and Guatemalan research collaborators, CATIE and CEAB have collaborated in the development of the field survey tools and implemented the field surveys among 180 coffee farmers. The CATIE Biostatistics group have been responsible for management and quality control of the project database. CATIE and CEAB have also been responsible for soil analysis in their respective soils labs. Researchers at both CATIE and CEAB have responsibility for analysis and interpretation of data for specific work packages. CEH have been responsible for the adaption of the coffee agroforestry model to on-farm coffee systems. Coffee Institute partners have supported access to farmers, provided orientation as to national demands, and provided access to meteorological data
Impact A joint paper has been reviewed by Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems on "Shade and agronomic intensification in coffee agroforestry systems: trade-off or synergy?" and moderate revisions submitted pending approval by the editor. The paper has co-authors from CATIE and CEAB as well as University of Greenwich. It is a multi-disciplinary paper with co-authors including ecologists, economists, agronomists and environmental scientists. A further paper on pest and diseases losses in coffee systems is in draft and led by CATIE.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Costa Rica, Guatemala, UK reserach collaboration 
Organisation Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center
Country Costa Rica 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project has been established as a research collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) based in Costa Rica, the Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies (CEAB) of the University of Valle in Guatemala, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), UK. Additional partners are the Coffee Institutes of Guatemala ANACAFE and Costa Rica - ICAFE who represent the coffee farmers and traders of these countries.
Collaborator Contribution Costa Rican and Guatemalan research collaborators, CATIE and CEAB have collaborated in the development of the field survey tools and implemented the field surveys among 180 coffee farmers. The CATIE Biostatistics group have been responsible for management and quality control of the project database. CATIE and CEAB have also been responsible for soil analysis in their respective soils labs. Researchers at both CATIE and CEAB have responsibility for analysis and interpretation of data for specific work packages. CEH have been responsible for the adaption of the coffee agroforestry model to on-farm coffee systems. Coffee Institute partners have supported access to farmers, provided orientation as to national demands, and provided access to meteorological data
Impact A joint paper has been reviewed by Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems on "Shade and agronomic intensification in coffee agroforestry systems: trade-off or synergy?" and moderate revisions submitted pending approval by the editor. The paper has co-authors from CATIE and CEAB as well as University of Greenwich. It is a multi-disciplinary paper with co-authors including ecologists, economists, agronomists and environmental scientists. A further paper on pest and diseases losses in coffee systems is in draft and led by CATIE.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Costa Rica, Guatemala, UK reserach collaboration 
Organisation UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The project has been established as a research collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) based in Costa Rica, the Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies (CEAB) of the University of Valle in Guatemala, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), UK. Additional partners are the Coffee Institutes of Guatemala ANACAFE and Costa Rica - ICAFE who represent the coffee farmers and traders of these countries.
Collaborator Contribution Costa Rican and Guatemalan research collaborators, CATIE and CEAB have collaborated in the development of the field survey tools and implemented the field surveys among 180 coffee farmers. The CATIE Biostatistics group have been responsible for management and quality control of the project database. CATIE and CEAB have also been responsible for soil analysis in their respective soils labs. Researchers at both CATIE and CEAB have responsibility for analysis and interpretation of data for specific work packages. CEH have been responsible for the adaption of the coffee agroforestry model to on-farm coffee systems. Coffee Institute partners have supported access to farmers, provided orientation as to national demands, and provided access to meteorological data
Impact A joint paper has been reviewed by Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems on "Shade and agronomic intensification in coffee agroforestry systems: trade-off or synergy?" and moderate revisions submitted pending approval by the editor. The paper has co-authors from CATIE and CEAB as well as University of Greenwich. It is a multi-disciplinary paper with co-authors including ecologists, economists, agronomists and environmental scientists. A further paper on pest and diseases losses in coffee systems is in draft and led by CATIE.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Costa Rica, Guatemala, UK reserach collaboration 
Organisation University of the Valley of Guatemala
Country Guatemala 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project has been established as a research collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) of the University of Greenwich, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) based in Costa Rica, the Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies (CEAB) of the University of Valle in Guatemala, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), UK. Additional partners are the Coffee Institutes of Guatemala ANACAFE and Costa Rica - ICAFE who represent the coffee farmers and traders of these countries.
Collaborator Contribution Costa Rican and Guatemalan research collaborators, CATIE and CEAB have collaborated in the development of the field survey tools and implemented the field surveys among 180 coffee farmers. The CATIE Biostatistics group have been responsible for management and quality control of the project database. CATIE and CEAB have also been responsible for soil analysis in their respective soils labs. Researchers at both CATIE and CEAB have responsibility for analysis and interpretation of data for specific work packages. CEH have been responsible for the adaption of the coffee agroforestry model to on-farm coffee systems. Coffee Institute partners have supported access to farmers, provided orientation as to national demands, and provided access to meteorological data
Impact A joint paper has been reviewed by Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems on "Shade and agronomic intensification in coffee agroforestry systems: trade-off or synergy?" and moderate revisions submitted pending approval by the editor. The paper has co-authors from CATIE and CEAB as well as University of Greenwich. It is a multi-disciplinary paper with co-authors including ecologists, economists, agronomists and environmental scientists. A further paper on pest and diseases losses in coffee systems is in draft and led by CATIE.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Blog for Evidensia a sustainability knowledge platform supported by ISEAL the alliance of sustainability certification standards. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The blog "Sustainability-intensification trade-offs in coffee production and the potential role of certification" was provided as part of a special series on the coffee sector promoted by Evidensia, a knowledge platform that promotes dissemination and discussion of research findings on sustainability particularly of agricultural commodities subject of private sustainability standards (such as organic, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance). Participants in the forum include the sustainability standards bodies, commodity traders and processors, NGOs, and researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.evidensia.eco/resources/1043/intensification-sustainability-trade-offs-in-coffee-product...
 
Description Feedback event to farmers and agronomists 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshops were conducted to share research findings with the coffee institutes in Costa Rica and Guatemala.
In Costa Rica three workshops were held in person in the regional offices of the Costa Rican Coffee Institute. Participation was restricted to 10 people (due to COVID) at each workshop (30 in total) who were a mix of agronomists and farmers who participated in the study. The outcome was that farmers and agronomists learn about the main research findings of the project as regards their economic and environmental performance, and especially that in most cases there was no trade-off between these two.
In Guatemala the workshop was held virtually via zoom and was transmitted to three regional offices of the National Coffee Association, where local agronomists and farmers were invited to attend. We estimate that 30-40 people attended.
In both countries attending farmers were given an information sheet that summarised the data taken from their farms in the context of other farms in the region this covered topics such, as gross margin, total costs and earnings, crop density, tree numbers per hectare, productive area, management costs, pests and diseases, nutrients and organic elements of the soil, and complete list of registered birds and insects. These information sheets were also delivered to those farmers who participated in the study but did not attend these events for a total of 90 farmers in Costa Rica and about 75 in Guatemala.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Interview for Ibero-American biotechnology researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Provided an informal interview/discussion with Bioali a Spanish and Latinamerican agribiotechnology network that holds interviews and discussion on topical research. Title was "Buscando sostenibilidad en la produccion de cafe"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.instagram.com/tv/CLPlslXJhTZ/
 
Description Multi-stakeholder Inception Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A project inception meeting was held in May 2019 with all research partners and stakeholders. There were 23 participants including from researchers from NRI, CEH, CATIE, CEAB, agronomists from ICAFE, and policy officials from Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources of Costa Rica. Eighteen of the participants were from DAC country organizations. The event provided an opportunity for the project to share its objectives and receive feedback from the participants on the relevance of the project, the policies and practices that it could inform and the geographic areas to study.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Seeking Sustainability in Coffee Agroecosystems Webinar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Webinar was given for Institution of Environmental Studies on Seeking Sustainability in Coffee Agroecosystems. They provide lunchtime webinars on topical subjects. Talk lastest 30 minutes followed by 20 mins of questions from participants. The talk is also available on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_vqh69vwQo . There were 28 participants in the webinar and have been 48 views of the youtube two weeks after it was given.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_vqh69vwQo