Managing ecosystem services to reduce poverty and vulnerability in East African coffee landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev


Coffee underpins the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers worldwide. In East African countries, 60-100% of coffee is smallholder grown and a major source of income for individual farmers, Coffee export earnings total over 1 billion US $ in the region and coffee is a key policy tool for governments to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty. For East African countries such as Rwanda and Burundi, coffee forms >50% of export earnings and even for larger economies in Uganda, for example, it makes up 10%. High dependency on one commodity increases vulnerability to fluctuating prices and other market risks (eg slumps in prices in the 1990's/early 2000s). As many smallholder coffee farmers are poor and unable to undertake capital investment or improve yields through inorganic inputs, they rely heavily on husbandry skills and ecosystem services (e.g. soil health, pollination, pest regulation) for crop production. Coffee not only depends on these services but provides important environmental services because of its strategic upland location, often neighbouring what forest remains in the region. The key services include the control of soil and water movement at landscape and regional scales and, where trees are incorporated in coffee landscapes, connectivity of forest habitat. A number of trends are furthermore threatening coffee livelihoods. Global circulation models produce highly variable climate change predictions for Eastern Africa and coffee is sensitive to temperature and precipitation. National policies are promoting the use of non-shade hybrid coffee that is vigorous and produces higher yields than traditional coffee types, while the increasing use of monocropping (e.g. in Kenya it is 40% of production) further exposes farmers to weather or pest-induced income risks. Coffee originated in forests and yields under shade may be lower but quality tends to be higher and the tree lifespan longer. Shaded coffee also provides important soil conservation and hydrological ecosystem services. The use of monocrops increases run off and soil loss, thus reducing soil quality and yields. Farmers are then trapped in a loop where soil quality continues to fall year-on-year and policies to improve livelihoods may actually make them worse off in the long-term. Previous work by the proposal team has found that some of ecosystem services are not being fully exploited by farmers in coffee systems and so production, and the income generated from it, is below levels which could be achieved. Indeed, some simple management practices (eg managing fallow land appropriately) have been shown to enhance services like pollination to levels where they have a direct economic benefit to farmers. As the region will be influenced by future climate and land use change it is important to understand how to optimally manage services now and in the future, and identify novel cropping systems for the future. We propose to develop a research programme which aims to improve the way coffee systems in East Africa are managed now and under future climate change so that the income farmers receive is increased and rural livelihoods improved. Using workshops and reviews of existing knowledge and data, and developing new research tools, we will design a programme of activities which will bring together diverse skills from biological, economic, and social sciences so that we can properly understand how all the components of the system interact and affect each other. By understanding how ecosystem services affect coffee production we can develop knowledge to allow better management of these services so that livelihoods of farmers are improved. One part of this process is making sure that scientific findings are translated into forms which can be used to directly advise farmers on how to improve the management of coffee growing and also help decision makers develop new policies and support systems to help guide farmer at a wider scale.


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Description ESPA Research Consortium application: Alleviating Poverty in the East African highlands with Environmental Services
Amount £737,822 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/J001805/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Description Workshop on Managing ecosystem services to reduce poverty and vulnerability in East African coffee landscapes 
Organisation Makerere University
Country Uganda 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A four day workshop in Kenya brought together approximately 30 experts to develop and strengthen links with academic institutions in UK and East Africa.
Start Year 2010