Shade trees can protect coffee crops from climate extremes

Farming techniques that use shade trees may improve crops’ resistance to temperature and rainfall extremes that climate change is expected to trigger, says a study in BioScience magazine.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, US, focused on coffee production, although they added that their conclusions could be applied to other cash crops, including cocoa and tea, which also were traditionally grown under shade trees.

The scientists gathered evidence that showed that the intensification of coffee production in recent decades had made the crop, and the millions of people whose livelihood depends on it, more vulnerable to higher temperatures and changes in rainfall.

In an effort to boost production, the US researchers added, growers had increased their use of pesticides and relied less on shade trees.

Their findings suggested that these developments made the coffee plants more susceptible to extreme weather events.

The team added that the benefits of shade trees appeared to be greater in marginal growing areas.

They called for more research in to whether a return to more traditional agroforestry techniques were likely to protect the livelihoods of farmers threatened by climate change.

Below is the paper’s abstract:

An inevitable consequence of global climate change is that altered patterns of temperature and precipitation threaten agriculture in many tropical regions, requiring strategies of human adaptation.

Moreover, the process of management intensification in agriculture has increased and may exacerbate vulnerability to climate extremes.

Although many solutions have been presented, the role of simple agroecological and agroforestry management has been largely ignored.

Some recent literature has shown how sustainable management may improve agroecological resistance to extreme climate events.

We comment specifically on a prevalent formof agriculture throughout Latin America, the coffee agroforestry system.

Results from the coffee literature have shown that shade management in coffee systems may mitigate the effects of extreme temperature and precipitation, thereby reducing the ecological and economic vulnerability of many rural farmers.

We conclude that more traditional forms of agriculture can offer greater potential for adapting to changing conditions than do current intensive systems.

Source: American Institute of Biological Sciences

Date: 1/10/2008

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