Coffee Agroecosystems

Homo sapiens cultivates only two of the 124+ (and counting!) species in the Coffea genus: Coffea arabica (“arabica”) and Coffee canephora (“robusta”). Each species has a distinct agroecological niche in the global tropics. Our work focuses on understanding (1) how soil context influences coffee growth, yield and cup quality, and (2) participatory research on nutrient management for coffee yield and quality improvement, for arabica in Guatemala and southern California and for robusta in Ecuador. Much of this research is integrated in Dr. Margenot’s course, CPSC 117: Agriculture and Science of Coffee.

Coffee arabica in Chimaltenango Dept., Guatemala

Soils are the literal foundation of agroecosystem, but the inherent –and typically uncharacterized— role of soils of coffee agroecosystems is a persistent information gap that challenges management recommendations. Assessing the pedological context of coffee agroecosystems holds potential to improve their management for productivity and climate change resilience. We are evaluating soil variability and soil-plant relationships in Central and South American coffee agroecosystems.

Soils across Central American coffee agroecosystems in volcanic landscapes
Comparison of two Coffea arabica production systems on strongly contrasting soil types: a nutrient-rich Andosol in western Panama (top) and an acidic, low fertility Oxisol in northern Tanzania (bottom). Soil diversity in the global coffee belt requires a soils-specific approach to coffee agroecosystems.

Current projects include assessment of agroforestry and nutrient inputs on soil-coffee plant interactions in Ecuador in collaboration with ESPOL and INIAP, an elevational transect in Guatemala in collaboration with coffee producers and the Del Fuego Project, and southern California producers via Dr. Cinzia Fissore at Whittier College.

Discussing soils with coffee producers in Yepocapa, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Devon Barker via Taya Brown of the Del Fuego project (