Indo-Swiss Coffee Connections

By Janina Keller, Junior Manager – Entrepreneurship & Innovation, June 2016

Coffee connections

We often connect with friends over a cup of coffee. Coffee does not only connect people but also places. Kodagu, India’s second largest coffee producer, and Switzerland, the world’s largest importer of green coffee, are connected through trade. And since 2012, so are researchers at ETH Zürich and the College of Forestry, Ponnampet, University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Shimoga. These researchers have allied to analyse the agroforesting system in Kodagu.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 5.10.08 pm

swissnex India team with the Swiss and Indian researchers

It was a pleasure to discover what is behind my daily coffee at the Indo-Swiss conference “Percieving the future of Kodagu landscape: Coffee, shade trees and bees” on June 14th 2016. The conference served to present the results to the stakeholders and also give back to the local community who opened their doors and fields for the Indo-Swiss research teams.

Growing coffee in the shade of the forest?

When we think of coffee plantations, we visualise sunlit monocultures. Not so in Kodagu, where coffee is traditionally grown under diverse trees in the shade. The Indo-Swiss project “MOCA – Managing Trade-Offs in Coffee Agroforests” examines the effects of shade trees on coffee crop: The optimal shade cover for robusta coffee was found to be 30% to 50%. In recent years, there has been a trend to replace the diverse native shade trees with silver oak due to its fast growth rate. However, according to the ETH PhD student Maike Nesper, this change reduces the coffee out turn, e.g. due to a negative effect on the nutrient cycle. This shows that a higher biodiversity can go hand-in-hand with an increased productivity.

How bees contribute to our daily coffee

Even as a honey lover, I was not aware of the enormous value bees add to coffee. The Indo-Swiss pollination services research findings show that one third of the pollination is through bees. Given the importance of bees, Dr. Smitha Krishnan and Charlotte Pavageau (ETH Zürich) started to investigate what attracts bees to coffee plantations.

DSC05014-2

Again, native shade trees were found to play an essential role by providing nesting, pollen and nectar as well as attracting more bees into the fields. Having beehives close to the coffee plantation has a dual advantage: It provides honey to the farmer and incrases the coffee production.

Coffee from biodiverse regions are even tastier

Kodagu is one of the world’s “hottest hotspots” for biodiversity. The Indo-Swiss research shows that preserving native biodiversity helps with commercial coffee production. The social company Black Baza Coffee sells speciality coffee from regions with a high biodiversity. The founder, Ashya Bose, decided to start the social company after pursuing her PhD in the region and realising the importance of biodiversity.

Now my daily coffee also connects me with memories of a lush and diverse landscape, farmers who cultivate and protect the nature and the busy bees.

thumb_DSC05247_1024  Dr. Smitha Krishnan addressing the audience