Bees help increase the value of coffee plantations

Can economic power (purchasing power) also be used to conserve biodiversity?

In a study, Professor Taylor Ricketts and his team looked at how native ecosystems can affect agriculture from an economic perspective.

The study looked at the impact of pollinators, which live in small fragments of tropical forests (i.e. native ecosystems) growing around coffee plantations, on the overall yield of coffee.

And why coffee? Because coffee is one of the most valuable export commodities and therefore economically valuable. It is also grown in many different regions.

Scientists have studied how much pollinators from the native ecosystem contribute to the quality of coffee. The study was carried out in 2001-2002 at the coffee plantation Finca Santa Fe in the Valle General in Costa Rica. The weight of ripe fruit, the number of 'peaberries' (fruit that develop only one seed instead of two) per total number of ripe fruit was measured.

Peaberry grain

From the parameters commonly reported by coffee farmers, the total weight of the fruit (and total dry weight) and the weight and volume of the harvested cherries were then measured.

The results then show that coffee plantations near native tropical forests that are pollinated by wild bees have higher harvest yields. In contrast, plantations in more remote areas (1.4-1.6 km from the native ecosystem) had significantly lower harvest volumes. The addition of pollen to plants in more distant plantations was found to increase cherry harvested, confirming the importance of adequate pollination of cultivated plants on overall coffee yield.

Sufficient pollination in such distant plantations could thusincrease the kilograms of coffee harvested by up to 21%, according to the data . Sufficient pollination of coffee plants also reduced the number of 'peaberries' by up to 27%. As the roasting of coffee emphasises the same bean size, these smaller beans are often considered to be of lower quality and their presence at harvest is therefore often less desirable.

When roasting coffee, it is important to roast the Peaberry beans separately, as they have a different bulk weight and are considered a defect if mixed in regular coffee. The farmer may also receive a higher reward for the peaberry beans he has picked.

The presence of native wild bee species in tropical forests also plays a very important role in pollination. These native bee species can pollinate plants more efficiently and frequently than the commonly bred honey bee species.

Wild bees are more likely to move from plant to plant, ensuring perfect cross-pollination, unlike domesticated bees, which tend to focus on individual plants at higher plant densities. Some native bee species can also carry even more pollen than honey bees.

A diverse population of native insect pollinators also ensures a more stable and larger pollination with a wider climatic tolerance. In economic terms, then, the pollinator effect has been translated into an amount of profit averaging $60,000 per year per farm in Costa Rica. This approximate calculation gives new potential for protecting native forest stands. If we take into account that this yield is calculated for only one farm, but that native pollinators can also contribute to and benefit from multiple plantations, the value of the native tropical forest increases significantly. In addition to this value, the retention of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and water by the forest can be added.

All of these aspects, which make it possible to capture the economic value of native tropical forests, could thus in the future, with the support of local policy, provide strong reasons for landowners to protect forests in some of the most threatened regions on earth.