Costa Rican Coffee from Community to Cup
Coffee is one of the most widely grown crops and a major source of export revenue for many countries. An estimated 100 million people are dependent on coffee for income, all in the tropics. Coffee production practices range from rustic traditional techniques to intensive coffee farming, which uses synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and full sun exposure to boost productivity. Costa Rica is typical of one of the most dramatic shifts towards intensive coffee production practices in the last 15 years.
The Coope Tarrazu, a coffee cooperative in the small town of San Marcos de Tarrazú in central Costa Rica, has recognised the threats that poor management strategies pose to its coffee production and are engaging in a sustainability campaign to address them. The cooperative provides central services such as technical assistance and education to the 2,400 farmers it represents. There is still a considerable lack of knowledge about how to balance the methods needed to increase yields, without compromising the environmental sustainability of coffee production.
Costa Rican Coffee from Community to Cup, led by Dr. Mark Chandler and Dr. John E Banks, aims to bridge this knowledge gap by studying the relationships between farm management practices (shade trees, herbicide application, and fertilization regimes) and soil nutrient content, coffee productivity and quality. The information collected in the field can be used to help farmers of the Coope Tarrazu by providing them with practical training and knowledge needed for sustainable coffee production.
Key objectives of the project include testing whether reduced reliance on synthetic fertilizers and synthetic herbicides, and differences among shade tree composition can lead to improved soil quality and coffee production.
The results of this pioneering research will directly benefit coffee farmers and engage customers and employees to learn about coffee production. Earthwatch volunteers will work closely with scientists and the farmers at the Coope Tarrazu to make a meaningful contribution to agricultural sustainability in Central America.
Much of the expedition's research will help build Geographic Information System (GIS) maps of farms in the cooperative. Volunteers will map water resources and biodiversity indicators, such as the number and types of trees and insects. This in turn will help to identify the impact of shade trees, biodiversity, soil quality, and to minimise erosion during coffee production. Local farmers are a part of the project all the way through. They will receive maps, research results, and management tools to enhance the environmental sustainability of their farms, as well as yield and quality of their coffee.
The project also offers a great opportunity for educating the public about a crop of global significance and how the decisions they make impact global sustainability.
Report by Nina Raasakka.
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