Shade-grown coffee brings about the maintenance of environmental stability through preservation, and when necessary, restoration of the ecological balance, through Agroforestry symbiosis. Each biological component inside the coffee forest supports the pyramid of life, at various trophic levels. This article is so very different from our earlier articles. It intends to stimulate the imagination of Coffee Planter’s, Scientists, Policy Makers, and Thinkers on the state of our environment and help realize the intrinsic value of shade coffee and how it contributes to the overall “Ecological Integrity” of the coffee ecosystem.
Many Biologists define Ecological Integrity, as the ability of an ecological system to support and maintain a community of organisms that has species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to those of natural habitats within a region. They further state that it includes diversity, within and between species and the diversity of ecosystems. It is all about maintaining the diversity and quality of ecosystems and enhancing their capacity to adapt to change and provide for the needs of future generations. After all, the coffee Plantations are known for their constant evolution.
Importance of Ecological Integrity
Due to the impact of climate change and a decrease in global coffee prices, many undesirable changes are occurring both at the macro and microscopic level, inside the coffee forests. These environmental changes favor some species, ecosystems, and ecological processes, while at the same time cause, important damage to others.
We are trying to help all coffee-growing countries to dwell on a global partnership to integrate the economics of ecosystems, so that the true value of coffee forests is measured, in terms of the overall safety and sustainability of the coffee ecosystem.
The ecological integrity of the coffee ecosystem is a relatively new concept and is a complex subject, and needs to be actively discussed and debated so that we can draw meaningful conclusions. We as coffee Planters need to keep an open mind and understand the implications of the package of practices that are followed in the cultivation of coffee and other multiple crops. This new concept of ecological Integrity should provide a means of distinguishing between the positives and the negatives. It should help coffee Planters realize that in certain spheres, dramatic and drastic measures need to be taken to improve the overall quality of the ecosystem and at the same time, also highlight the numerous benefits that are already in place, inside the coffee forests by way of preserving and allocating a part of the plantation as virgin forest.
A review of the literature clearly states that ecological integrity, though a new subject, is an effective tool to protect the environment from manmade abuse. Even though the concept is new to eco-friendly Indian shade coffee, our viewpoint suggests that it’s time we make use of this tool to monitor the health of the coffee ecosystem for both short-term impacts and long-term effects, especially when global warming is hitting the coffee Planters hard.
It is an established fact that Indian shade coffee consists of a heterogeneous tree population numbering hundred to hundred and fifty trees per acre in Arabica and fifty percent less in Robusta plantations. Most of these native trees grow symbiotically with coffee and allied multiple crops. However, in recent years, the native trees are chopped down and exotic trees like silver oak, Mangium, Mesopsis, etc are replacing the native trees. This has resulted in many changes, especially in terms of the decline of beneficial nitrogen fixers and phosphate solubilizers.
The Coffee forests are also home to a number of native herbs, shrubs, climbers, which are used by the local planters for medicinal value. These are eliminated, to accommodate high-density coffee planting.
Valleys, home to aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats where traditional rice varieties were grown, are drained to accommodate high-yielding dwarf varieties of coffee.
We have listed just a few examples, which have a direct impact on the integrity of the coffee ecosystem.
Putting in place a well-designed ecological monitoring program will be a sort of framework to help meet short-term objectives and long-term goals with the least damage to the ecosystem.
It will help the Planting community to detect stress areas where immediate action needs to be taken on a war footing. E.g. Landslides, soil runoff. Flooding.
It will help identify threats to resources like water, carbon, soil microbes, biodiversity loss and help suggest effective measures to combat the same.
It will help strategies for identifying and prioritizing monitoring objectives.
It will enable Coffee Planters to be forewarned and better prepared to face global warmings, like sudden cloud bursts or prolonged droughts.
In a nutshell, it will help adapt, facilitate and structure their monitoring efforts, especially, since coffee is grown in the fragile Western Ghats at higher elevations.
It will help both conservation and restoration of affected agro-climatic zones.
Factors that Affect Ecological Integrity can be broadly classified as Biotic and Abiotic stress.
Sudden rise in temperature. Especially during the summer months and extended cold waves in winter.
High-velocity winds and thermal currents sending warm air
Prolonged drought periods and Heat Stress
Cloud bursts causing erosion of precious topsoil
Pollution, both through biological and chemical waste
Radiation stress by way of undesirable ultraviolet rays
Biological stress in terms of competition, predation and parasitism
Native Microflora and Its impact on Ecological Integrity
As Microbiologists and Horticulturists, we assume that this concept can be best explained with an Example of Introduced Vs. Native microflora.
One can measure Ecological Integrity inside the coffee ecosystem as the degree to which a diverse community of native microorganisms is maintained, and is used as a representation for ecological resilience, intended as the capacity of an ecosystem to adapt in the face of stressors while maintaining the functions of interest.
With global warming a reality inside coffee plantations, the summer temperatures have crossed the threshold limits in various agro-climatic regions. In such extremes of weather, it is only the native microflora that will survive and maintain the balance of ecosystem functions whereas the introduced microflora will perish or even if they survive, their physiological activity will be hampered. It is an established norm that native species are considered to have a positive impact than introduced species.
Today, ecological integrity is most commonly understood as a holistic concept. This article contains our thoughts, opinion,s and views to drive debate and discussion in schools, colleges, Parliament, Board rooms, and households on how the coffee ecosystem could a role model of Ecological Integrity.
Further research in this area would be valuable to better understand how we can integrate the economics of landscape labeling to fit into green GDP, which in turn translates towards a stable coffee ecosystem.
It’s important to note that all stakeholders of coffee and not only Coffee Planters, should comprehensively understand the scientific foundations of ecological integrity and contribute in a positive way to arrive at a common framework model that can be adopted by the coffee Industry.
As we move forward, there’s one thing we need to understand, that Ecological integrity frameworks, once set in motion, will bring greater benefits to all stakeholders because it will help us realize that traditional systems with modern sustainable adaptations are more resilient and resistant to the impact of climate change and global warming.
Anand T Pereira and Geeta N Pereira. 2009. Shade Grown Ecofriendly Indian Coffee. Volume-1.
Anand Titus Pereira & Gowda. T.K.S. 1991. Occurrence and distribution of hydrogen dependent chemolithotrophic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the endorhizosphere of wetland rice varieties grown under different Agro-climatic Regions of Karnataka. (Eds. Dutta. S. K. and Charles Sloger. U.S.A.) In Biological Nitrogen Fixation Associated with Rice production. Oxford and I.B.H. Publishing. Co. Pvt. Ltd. India.
Components Of Ecological Integrity
Measuring Ecological Integrity
D E F I N I N G E C O L O G I C A L I N T E G R I T Y