Ecofriendly Coffee Pollinators Other than Bees & Butterflies

Almost all Coffee Planters, worldwide are of the opinion that Bees and butterflies are the only agents of pollination of coffee and other mixed crops associated with coffee. This is not true. There are many other agents of pollination closely associated with coffee forests.

Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes and includes birds, insects and mammals. Research data indicates that more than 100,000 different kinds of animals, pollinate over 250,000 different kinds of plants. It is interesting to note that pollinators, irrespective of the group they belong to are often adapted to pollinate specific plants. It is for this very reason, it is very important to protect all kinds of biodiversity within the Coffee Ecosystem.


It is a fact that three fourths of the world’s flowering plants and almost all food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce.  Bees and butterflies constitute a major part of pollination. Apart from Honeybees and butterflies, there are many other species of insects like ants, wasps, moths, flies, dragonflies, damselflies, grasshoppers, Beetles, bats, humming birds and other animals that play an important role in pollination and fruit set in coffee. Pollinators are economically, socially and culturally important.

Readers, worldwide need to understand that India’s shade grown eco-friendly coffee forests are unique when compared with other coffee producing Nations, because they are grown under the canopy of a three tiered shade system which includes a heterogeneous tree population comprising of native and introduced trees, herbs, shrubs, flowering plants, fruits, spices and other mixed crops. In short the coffee ecosystem provides an ideal environment for all pollinators because of the accessibility to flowers all year round. Flowering can be observed either from trees, herbs, shrubs, weeds, or fruit plants or spices. In some varieties, flowering is staggered there by providing a continuous source of pollen and nectar. The diverse coffee ecosystem has many symbiotic roles to play with the surrounding biotic community. Especially, when it comes to the flowering morphology of various trees, fruit crops, herbs, spices and other plants, we notice an interdependency of certain species of native insect pollinators with their corresponding host plants. Most plants have a definite flower morphology, colour, blooming sequence, characteristic scent pattern that will attract a particular type of pollinator to meet its protein requirement. In some species this symbiotic relationship between plant and pollinator has evolved over thousands of years and is so interconnected that the absence of one can signal the extinction of the other. Hence, it is important to understand that all flora and fauna inside coffee forests have a role to play in the productivity of the ecosystem. Maintaining a healthy population of pollinators is a pre requisite for reproduction and maintenance of genetic diversity inside coffee forests.

The Coffee Community in India has always been proactive in terms of conservation of biodiversity. In recent years, due to price drop in coffee and allied crops and also due to global warming, biodiversity loss has alarmingly increased. This impact has significantly impacted many species of beneficial insects, especially the pollinators.


We have not come across any scientific study on the agents involved in the pollination of coffee and other mixed crops apart from honey bees and butterflies. We record a few observations of pollination by insects and are of the view that due to a significant reduction in population of honey bees and butterflies, Planters should take note of other agents which are also equally important in facilitating pollination inside coffee forests.

All kinds of pollinating agents have very high-energy needs that must be met for their survival. Key resources such as pollen and nectar are met from a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season.

Understanding Pollinator Habitats

Each type of pollinator requires a specific habitat.

Bees and wasps require nest sites, Beetles, butterflies, moths, flies and some wasps require larval feeding sites, others require hunting sites and over wintering sites. The selection of sites is based on areas where the natural enemies or predator population is low. Coffee farmers need to protect these sites to support the pollinator populations.

Entomophily – pollination by insect.

Damselflies and Dragonflies


Scientific evidence points out to the fact that dragonflies and damselflies may rest on flowers, but don’t carry enough pollen from flower to flower to be considered pollinators. We are of a different opinion because our observations point out that damselflies repeatedly fly from one coffee flower to the other and may play an important role in pollination. However with respect to dragonflies, we have not observed such frequent activity.

Myrmecophily – pollination by Ants

We have observed different species of ants, Black and red in colour visiting coffee flowers during blossom to collect energy rich nectar. However, we are not sure as to how effective the various species of ants are in helping with pollination.

Chiroperophily or Bat Pollination


The coffee forests are gifted with many bat species. Some are tiny in size and the others huge with a long wing span. They are often referred to as the night shift pollinators. Research data clearly shows that over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination which also includes mangoes, guvas, sapotas, bananas, and figs.

Cantharophily – pollination by beetle.


We have observed many beetle species involved in coffee and mixed crop pollination. Beetles comprise the largest set of pollinating animals, due to sheer numbers. They are responsible for pollinating 88% of the 240,000 flowering plants globally.

Scents associated with beetle pollination are often spicy (Crab apples), sweet (Chimonananthus), or fermented (Calycanthus).

Ornithophily or Bird Pollination

2016-other-pollinatorsslide-7 2016-other-pollinatorsslide-8

Our scientific study on coffee forests has shown that over 100 species of birds habit the coffee ecosystem. Some are resident and others migratory in nature. However, during the coffee blossom, we have noticed only a handful of species directly involved in coffee pollination. A majority of them are the humming birds. We are still studying and documenting the birds involved in pollination of coffee and allied crops like areca and oil palm.

Sapromyiophily – pollination by Flies

We have observed a few types of flies during coffee flowering but have yet to ascertain their role in pollination. However, scientific evidence points out that flies even though are not as hairy as bees and as efficient in carrying pollen, but some are good pollinators.




The Coffee ecosystem is gifted with many different species of wasps and all the species are excellent pollinators.

Melittophily or hymenopterophily – pollination by bumblebee.

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The population of bumble bees, especially during coffee flowering is significantly higher when compared to other seasons. This may throw light on the important role they play in pollination of coffee.

Pollination by spiders


We have noticed a high level of activity of different species of spiders during blossom and are not sure if they are directly involved in pollination.

Why are pollinators at risk?

Air and water pollution due to indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Habitat loss and fragmentation of forests.

Widespread disease and pest incidence due to the impact of global warming.

How to safe guard pollinators

First and foremost use Integrated Pest management practices that reduce the dependency on chemical control of pests.

Allow a part of the Farm to remain wild (No commercial cultivation of any crop)

Habitat restoration and Habitat enhancement will provide multiple benefits (Supporting pollinators, Attraction of beneficial insects, Predators, Less use of chemicals on farm)

Add to the diversity of the farm. In a way provide for multiple crops (farm site).

Provide flowering plants (garden) where flowers should be available throughout the entire growing season. These plants should provide overlapping blooming times so that flowers are available to provide pollen and nectar throughout the season.

It is desirable to include a variety of plants with different flower colours, sizes and shapes as well as varying plant heights and growth habits to encourage the maximum numbers and diversity of pollinators.



Next to oil, coffee is the largest traded commodity and employs 25 million unskilled workers in almost 80 coffee producing Countries. Coffee represents an important source of income for marginal farmers in most developing Countries.

However, a recent report brought out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations clearly states that Pollinators vital to our food supply are under threat, threatening millions of livelihoods and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of food supplies. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that with the global decline in the amount of pollinators, there is not a complete loss of fruit or seeds, but a significant decrease in quantity and viability in fruits, and a lower number of seeds.


Anand T Pereira and Geeta N Pereira. 2009. Shade Grown Ecofriendly Indian Coffee. Volume-1.

Bopanna, P.T. 2011.The Romance of Indian Coffee. Prism Books ltd.

Janet Marinelli, Editor in Chief, 2005. Flowering Plants, Pollinators, and the Health of the Planet.  First American Edition. Dorling Kindersley Limited (DK Publishing, Inc.). New York. 512 Pages.

Animal Pollination

Pollinators vital to our food supply

Economic value of tropical forest

Insects & Pollinators

Other Pollinators

Pollinator Biology and Habitat

The Hidden Beauty of Pollination

What Are Pollinators? Types, Importance

pollinating insect species





Key Role of Humic acid in Growth and Development of Arabica Coffee in South India.

Humatesis the purest form of natural organic matter formed as a result of decomposed prehistoric plant and animal matter. Humates contain fulvic, humic, Ulmicacid and lignin. Leonnoditeis the most commonly occurring humateore which is yellow to dark brown in color.

Benefits of humates

Humate is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants and free radical scavengers. Residual pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are bound to compounds like lignin. This is then broken down by the beneficial microbes present in the rhizosphere to be taken up by the plants.

Major portion of humic acid is in carboxylic acid functional groups which endows these molecules with the ability to chelate (bind) positively charged multivalent ions like Ca++,Mg++,Fe++ and other trace elements. Thereby making the nutrients available in the soil to the plant roots by breaking down into absorbable forms

Humate is a complex energy source of acids and oxygen vital for stimulating microbial activity.

Positive Role of Humic Acid

Increased leaf chlorophyll index and luster of the leaves.

Increased leaf area compared to the preceding leaf.

Increased feeder roots at the root zone which help in better absorption of nutrients.

All the above factors help in increased food production which in turn helps in better health condition of the plants.

Field Experiments At Melkodige Plantations

A field trial was conducted at Melkodige group of Estates , located in South India, to observe the benefits of humic acid on coffee Arabica. Humic acid was applied twice a year. The first application of 12% humic acid solution was sprayed on to the urea and DAP granules and raked to ensure uniform coating and applied at the rate of one litre per acre.

The second application of 12% humic acid was done post monsoon (sept-oct) along with foliar, micronutrients and fungicide spray at the rate of 200 ml per barrel.

A control plot was also maintained with regular two rounds of basal dose of fertilizers and two rounds of fungicide sprays without the application of humic acid.


To illustrate the potential of humic acid, best yielding plants were randomly selected in the experimental as well as control blocks and observed for the following parameters leaf area, leaf lustre, number of bearing nodes in a primary, number of berries in a bunch and weight of berries.

A fortnight after the application of humic acid there was a marked increase in leaf chlorophyll index, the leaves turned dark lustrous green. There was a significant increase in the leaf area of emerging leaves in all varieties compared to the previous leaves in treated plants as well as control plants.

Table-1 Leaf Area in humic acid treated blocks

157.25 180 198 105
157.5 136 236.5 90
185.25 161.5 199.5 105
170 144 241.5 91
190 152 264 122.5
153 180.5 264 94.25
170 153 280.5 104
AVERAGE 169 158.1428571 240.5714286 101.6785714

Table 2 Leaf Area in Control Blocks

79.25 142.5 144.5 82.5
81 128 171 74.25
112.5 136 189 71.5
94.25 112 144 100.5
105 127.5 160 91
AVERAGE 94.4 129.2 161.7 83.95

The highest mean leaf area of 240.57 Sq. cms was recorded in humic acid applied sachimore variety. The lowest mean leaf area of 83.95 was recorded in control block of cattimore variety. Sachimore variety also had the highest mean leaf area difference of 201.13Sqcms compared to the control plants. The difference between control and humic acid treated blocks was 50.03 Sqcms across all varieties.

The number of nodes on a randomly selected primary was also recorded. The highest number of nodes on a primary was observed in humic acid applied blocks of sachimore variety 11.6 closely followed by cattimore 11.4.

Table-3 Number of Nodes in Primaries treated with Humic Acid

9 8 12 11
11 10 11 12
11 10 11 10
8 7 10 9
9 14 14 15
TOTAL 9.6 9.8 11.6 11.4

Table-4 Number of Nodes in Primary in Control Blocks

9 10 6 7
8 6 9 6
7 8 7 8
8 6 9 8
9 8 10 10
AVERAGE 8.2 7.6 8.2 7.8

The highest mean difference between treated and control block was found in sachimore variety 9.9 nodes. The mean difference between treated and control block was 2.65.

The third bunch from the apical end was used to record the number of berries. The highest number of berries 18.4 was observed in SLN 9 in the treated Block closely followed by sachimore variety.

Table-5 Number of berries in a Node/Bunch in Humic Acid treated Blocks.

15 30 23 20
15 20 15 18
21 28 21 20
20 18 24 22
17 15 18 23
AVERAGE 17.6 22.2 20.2 20.6

Table-6 Number of berries in a Node/Bunch in Control Blocks.

12 13 16 13
10 15 17 16
16 16 15 11
10 16 12 13
11 13 16 16
AVERAGE 11.8 14.6 15.2 13.8

The lowest number of berries 11.8 were observed in Un treated Block of S 795. The lowest mean average of 14.7 between the treatments was also recorded in S795 were a high of 18.4 was recorded in SLN9. The mean difference6.3 berries per bunch was observed across all varieties between the treatments.

Hundred berries of each variety from both treated as well as control blocks was harvested and weighed. The berry weight was highest in Sachimore variety closely followed by SLN 9 in treated blocks. However the lowest berry weight was observed in cultivar SLN 795

Root growth and development

Visual observations of root growth and development among and between cultivars was also looked into though not analysed statistically. Humic acid application had a strong desired effect in terms of root hair growth and development in the surface feeder root zone of all the cultivars treated with humic acid compared to control.


Humic acid treatment among all the five cultivars chosen for the study showed significant difference in terms of leaf enhancement when compared to the control.

Table-11 Data Analysis pertaining to Leaf Analysis.

Varieties Treatments
Control Humic Acid Mean
SLN 795 94.40 169.00 131.70
SLN 9 129.20 158.14 143.67
SACHIMORE 161.70 240.57 201.14
CATTIMORE 83.95 101.67 92.81
Mean 117.31 167.35

The study revealed that variety Sachimore responded the best and the significant difference in enhancement of leaf area was 42.6%. Review of literature indicates that humic acid application has increased left area in vegetable crops like bell pepper and tomato but there are no studies to indicate the effect of humic acid on coffee. Perhaps this is the first systematic study were the authors have tried to probe the role of humic acid application and its effect on coffee as a Plantation crop. (Erlanger yildirim, 2002;FabrizioAdani,  1998) .

Sachimore variety showed significant promise and the percentage increase in terms of increase in number of nodes was to the extent of 33.3%.

Table-8 Number of Nodes

SLN 795 8.2 9.6 8.9
SLN 9 7.6 9.8 8.7
SACHIMORE 8.2 11.6 9.9
CATTIMORE 7.8 11.4 9.6
MEAN 7.95 10.6

The other cultivars showed promise with SLN 9 coming very close to Sachimore. (J. A. Fagbenro and A. A. Agboola, 2008; these authors observed increased plant height growth and nutrient uptake in humus rich and non humus Soils in teak plants. However no review is available for coffee arabica).

Another important parameter With respect to number of berries in a bunch was also evaluated towards to the varietal response of humic acid application.

Table-9 Number of Berries in a Bunch

SLN 795 11.8 17.6 14.7
SLN 9 14.6 22.2 18.4
SACHIMORE 15.2 20.2 17.7
CATTIMORE 13.8 20.6 17.2
MEAN 13.85 20.15

The study revealed that a significant increase to the extent of 45.4% was observed in variety Sachimore with respect to control. All other varieties also showed a remarkable incremental value when compare to the control.

Response of humic acid application on weight of berries among the five different arabica varieties involved in this study,  revealed that variety SLN 9  showed a significant increase to the extent of 16.33% followed by the variety Sachimore.

Table-10 Weight of Coffee Berries

SLN 795 174.49 155.71 165.1
SLN 9 210.86 181.26 196.06
SACHIMORE 216.99 202.92 209.955
CATTIMORE 183.68 163.33 173.505
MEAN 196.505 175.805 186.155

Our observations point out to the fact that apart from humic acid application, the genotype may also play a role in the inherent weight of a particular cultivar. However it was clearly evident in our study that humic acid application increased the weight of the berries uproar to 11.7% in comparison to control. (YasarKarakurt.  Et. AL, 22.  The authors observed an increased chlorophyll and mean fruit weight in bell pepper due to the influence of foliar and soil fertilization of humic acid).

Our study also indicated that there was an increase in root development and stimulation of root hairs in feeder roots of coffee which is essentially restricted to the top two inches layer of soil even though this aspect of the study was not qualitatively assessed, humic acid has a important role to play in root stimulation and development. (Fabrizioadani, et;al 1998. These authors also observed an increased root growth and nutrient uptake due to the effect of commercial humic acid on tomato plant growth).


Melkodige estate has to its credit a number of eco-certifications in terms of sustainability. The present study, perhaps the first of its kind in relation to coffee has shown tremendous response in significantly bringing about a positive change in all the parameters studied. Humic acid application will not only contribute in maintaining the humus content but in the long run will significantly bring about a qualitative and quantitative change in the coffee eco – system.


Anand T Pereira and Geeta N Pereira. 2009. Shade Grown Ecofriendly Indian Coffee. Volume-1.

Humic Acid

What are some agricultural uses of humic acid?

Humic acid From Wikipedia