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How Coffee is Changing Farming Around the World

Nathan Dumlao - Coffee Mill

Coffee growers have always been at the forefront of agriculture innovation, working to find new and better ways to bring the freshest tastes possible to your morning cup of Joe. One of the key processes discovered by pioneering coffee growers is that beans grown in clear-cut farms have a more bitter taste to them. The best coffee grows under the shade of local trees and mixed in with regional plants, and so, the best farms started to intersperse coffee plants among local foliage to create the best-tasting beans.

The Science of Tree Coverage and Nitrogen

It turns out that many trees work to fix and return nitrogen into the ground so that nearby crops require far fewer of the expensive nitrogen-rich fertilizers for their growth. Those same trees have roots that reach deeper into the soil for water and nutrients, so they do not compete with the crops for those resources. In fact, many tree species actually bring up those same water and nutrients, giving crops access to them as well. This makes the fields with those trees much more resistant to effects of climate change. Not only do the trees help to lock in key nutrients, but many trees drop their nitrogen-rich leaves at the start of the rainy season, so crops become fertilized just as the life-giving rains arrive.

The Assistance of Natural Ground Cover and Erosion Control

By growing other local plants nearby to the coffee fields, it allows smaller farms to remain rich and vital without needing to allow their fields to go fallow for a season. Allowing local grasses and shrubs to grow within the same fields replaces key nutrients without the need for expensive fertilizers to keep the soil productive. Local trees and plants not only provide water and nutrients to the soil and prevent runoff and soil erosion, but they give a place for local animals to live. These animals trample down grasses and smaller plants to create a cover which prevents rich soil from drying out and blowing away while adding their own nutrients with their excrement and kill waste. Animals such as foxes and hawks also help prevent crop loss due to rodents.

The Provisions of Interspecies Farming Techniques

Many bird species help to keep insect populations low without the need for dangerous pesticides. Many third world farmers are now taking these lessons of coffee farmers and using them for a wide variety of other crops. This interspecies farming is helping small family farms to actually double their yields while saving money on fertilizers and pesticides. By leaving the lessons of monoculture behind, they are learning to build biodiversity into their farming strategies. They are learning the lessons of coffee farming, that access to other plants provides great benefits to the salable crop and provides even greater profits for the farmer.

The drink that wakes us up in the mornings is also waking us up to a new way of feeding a growing population without causing harm to the world. So, drink up, the world is waiting for the next thing coffee will teach us.