Study: Forest Bees Help Grow Better Coffee

November 19, 2004

IT pays to have rain forest around afarm, new research on a Costa Rican coffeeplantation suggests.U.S. scientists monitoring the effectsof bee pollination on Finca Santa Fe, a1,065-hectare coffee farm in Valle ElGeneral, in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone,found that plants within a kilometer of rainforest produced 20% more beans thanbushes farther away from the forest.Additionally, forest-edge crops sproutednearly 30% fewer small, low-qualitybeans known as “peaberries,” which resultfrom inadequate pollination.Taken together, the improvementstranslated into an estimated $62,000 boostin annual earnings between 2000 and 2003,according to the study, entitled “EconomicValue of Tropical Forest to CoffeeProduction.”THE study, a combined effort of scientistsfrom the Washington D.C.-basedWorld Wildlife Fund’s ConservationScience Program, the Department ofBiological Sciences of StanfordUniversity in California, and the Divisionof Entomology of the Natural HistoryMuseum of the University of Kansas, ispart of a growing effort to capture the trueeconomic value of ecosystems.“Conserving rain forest pays, even inthe midst of prime farmland – in this case,by enhancing both the quantity and qualityof coffee produced by farms,” saidstudy member Gretchen Daily, of StanfordUniversity.Daily is quick to point out the study’scalculations represent only a tiny fractionof a rain forest’s true worth.“Besides their scenic beauty, forestshelp to stabilize the climate by absorbingcarbon from the atmosphere, hold soil inplace, and soak up water like a sponge, notonly controlling floods but gradually metingthe water out to provide a steady,clean, year-round supply,” she said, addingthat the coffee study ignores the pollinationservices to other farms in the area.DAILY, who spends several monthseach year at Las Cruces Research Station inSan Vito, south of Valle de El General, researchingthe effects of forest fragmentationon animal inhabitants, argues that instead ofessentially giving away natural resources,we should be paying people to preservethem. It generally pays off, Daily says in herrecent book, co-authored with KatherineEllison, “The New Economy of Nature: TheQuest to Make Conservation Profitable,”published in 2002 by Island Press.The good news is that Costa Ricaalready has what some have called theworld’s boldest pay-for-conservation program.The government pays any Ticolandowner to either maintain or restore treecoverage – according to Forest Law 7575.LANDOWNERS can earn ¢10,000($22.22) per hectare if their land is servingthe broader community. Right now, thegovernment recognizes four different classesof services: water conservation and floodcontrol, climate stabilization (through carbonuptake), biodiversity conservation andpreservation of scenic beauty.Because bee pollination is not on thelist, Daily believes that, at least for coffeefarmers, it would make sense to take conservationmatters into their own hands.“Just as farmers pay for other importantinputs of production, such as laborand fertilizer, business-savvy farmerswould be smart to invest in rain forests –whether that’s by restoring it to their land,or paying a neighbor not to cut theirsdown,” she said.

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