In search of mutual benefits
Ripe coffee beans are the seeds of the cherry, the fruit of the coffee, which, when harvested, resembles yellow or bright red cherries. To separate the coffee beans, producers remove the peel, pulp, and other parts of the fruit peel. Then they dry and roast what is left to make the powder that we drink in our cups for breakfast. Approximately half of the weight of the coffee harvested is lost.
In Costa Rica, according to Rakan Zahawi, study author and director of the Leon Arboretum at the University of Hawaii, in Manoa, coffee growers usually take all of the leftover coffee to storage, where it is kept to decompose.
In the early 2000s, Al-Zahawi visited a similar restoration project, using orange peels.
“The difference was stark,” he says, referring to the comparison between orange-treated forests and untouched forests, “there was a big difference.”
Remember this initiative when he started working in Costa Rica and noticed the wastage of the big coffee industry in the country. Cole and Al Zahawi wondered that if the excess coffee pulp could be used in any way, it could benefit everyone involved – coffee farmers, landowners, and environmentalists.
“In short, there is a large amount of waste being provided for free, because it would be expensive to treat,” says Cole. Instead of paying for composting and storing the waste, the researchers’ only cost was to hire dump trucks to transport the pulp.
Mechanism of Action
It works as follows: Spread about 45 cm of coffee pulp over an area of grass, and the foliage below that applied layer will heat up and suffocate until it suffocates, dies and decomposes.
“Basically, all grassroots and roots are eradicated,” Al-Zahawi explains.
Al-Zahawi and Cole found that when decomposing debris from the grass mixes with the nutrient-rich layer of coffee, fertile soil is formed. The soil, in turn, attracts insects that attract birds and then scatter the seeds on the farm, and so does the wind.
After this stage, forests begin to appear again.
“After the chaos that occurred in the first two or three years has ended, there is an explosion in plant growth,” Al-Zahawi says. “The soil becomes rich in nutrients so that its growth rate is accelerated.”
The solution they came up with was to pile the pulp – forming a layer of pulp thick enough in an appropriately flat area that it is not carried away by stripping, but this process needs to be done during the dry season so that the coffee can actually roast. In practice, it becomes a very effective compost heap.
“If someone puts their hands on this dough, they will see that it is very hot – it is not hot enough, but hot enough to smother the grass,” Al-Zahawi asserts.
Plastic hemp arranged over a field and attached with weights at the end will also kill the lawn. But Al-Zahawi notes that “we already have a lot of plastic waste in the world.” It will still be necessary to bring in new, fertile soil to attract new vegetation.
Cole explains that the most common way to restore forests is to plant trees. But, compared to just throwing away a by-product of the coffee and letting nature take care of the seeding, manual planting is a tedious and expensive process.
“I was a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of the way the coffee is used. I thought we’d have a lot of green grass,” she admits. However, we did see a new rainforest sprout.
Obstacles and the need for more research
Although Cole and Zahawi experimented with coffee pulp encouraged forest growth, it also had drawbacks.
“The coffee pulp smells really bad,” admits Cole, who grew up on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. “I’m used to the smell, but a lot of people just can’t stand it.
The site also attracts many flies and other insects, which attract birds that spread the seeds and harm people close to them.
There is also concern about the potential negative impacts on river basins. Cole says. Coffee pulp contains nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, which can damage streams and lakes, and stimulate disturbed growth of algae, for example. The pulp may also contain traces of the pesticides used during production.
Although this experiment was conducted away from water sources, Cole says his future research will analyze the potential impacts on surrounding areas.
a Previous study on orange peel The reforestation of degraded areas in Costa Rica has received some criticism. When Del Oro, the orange juice manufacturer, started a partnership with A. Local protection reserve To spread cargoes of bark into old pastures, TicoFrut, its regional rival, claimed the program was just a waste disposal vehicle. The initiative, which had been agreed with the rival juice company, was halted by the Costa Rican authorities.
A promising future for forests?
Dan Janzen and Winnie Halwax, two tropical ecologists at the University of Pennsylvania, were not surprised by the ecological success of the reforestation experiment by Cole and Zahawi; After all, it was Janzen who made the connection between Del Oro and the Conservation Reserve in 1996 for the same purpose and introduced the concept to Al Zahawi.
Two decades ago, it experienced similar success.
Six months after the orange peel was distributed, Janzen said the one-hectare small plot of land “looked and smelled foul”.
“After a year and a half, nothing of it left, the African grasslands that invaded the grasslands disappeared, and in their place, the wonderful terrain with a great diversity of broad-leaved plant species, growing in the black vegetable land, appeared. The place was heavily fertilized. The benefit of this technology, “Janzen wrote via e-mail.
According to him, the coffee pulp may escape the same fate as the unsuccessful orange peel project, as he believes that the pulp is “a secondary focus in complex political issues,” as it is grown on a larger scale by small producers, rather than by two major competing companies.
In addition to researching long-term effects, Cole is interested in testing other agricultural by-products. As long as crop residues are rich in nutrients and not harmful to human health, they expect similar results.