Rebecca Cole, an ecologist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, believes that just as coffee helps humans move a little faster, it could also have the same effect on reforesting forests. In fact, this biologist specialized in environmental studies carried out an experiment in Costa Rica to put her hypothesis into practice. The results, announced on March 28th, were described by the scientist as promising, according to an interview she gave to National Geographic magazine.
According to the study, published by the British Ecological Society, coffee pulp – a waste generated during its production – accelerates the reforestation of tropical soils worn down by agriculture. However, the author herself acknowledges that it must be explored further to rule out indirect contamination of soils.
The faster-than-usual growth of certain trees at the same time as invasive species of grass disappeared in the experimentation areas, leads Cole to hypothesize that there could be great potential for soil reclamation.
“It is a spectacular win-win situation. Not only does it offer an option to coffee growers for disposing of their waste in an organic way, but at the same time the timeline to bring back lost forests is accelerated,” she said.
According to the published report, the team led by Cole analyzed two parcels of land where the soil had been eroded by coffee growing and livestock activity. One of the plots was covered with half a meter of coffee pulp, while the other space was left without adding anything.
After two years, the area with the waste showed a dramatic improvement compared to the other land, for example, 80% had trees, some up to four meters high. In addition, the variety of species was greater. Meanwhile, the debris-free plot only had 20% forest cover. In addition, the stature of these trees, on average, was four times higher in the first field. As for the soils, it also registered a higher presence of nutrients and less invasive grass problem.
However, the specialist warns that more studies are required, especially to measure potential impacts of unwanted contamination. Cole mentioned that coffee pulp – the layers of “skin” that surround the bean on the inside of the fruit – contain a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen. This could affect bodies of water, where the growth of algae could be encouraged.
Also, if the plants were sprayed with pesticides, some traces of these could remain and be transmitted to the soil. In more superficial aspects, the scientist mentioned that this waste can have a very strong smell. At the same time, it attracts many flies and other insects that are considered pests.
However, for the ecologist, if these small inconveniences can be overcome, the potential for this product is radical. Her opinion is shared by other experts, according to the National Geographic review.
For example, Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, ecologists at the University of Pennsylvania, weren’t surprised by Cole’s study. In fact, this team cooperated in a similar initiative, in our country, in the 1990s.
However, back then, the experiment was done with orange peels. According to Janzen, they saw similar results. For his part, the co-author of the study and director of the arboretum – botanical garden of trees – in Lyon, France, explained how the process works.
Basically, the pulp “suffocates” the invasive grass species. During the process, the soil is nourished by different components that promote endemic reforestation. At the same time, this stimulus encourages faster growth.