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This is not fake news: coffee cultivation demands biodiversity (aka Moyee’s Barista Joost finishes his thesis)

A while ago we introduced you to our Traveling Barista Joost. Well, during the winter Barista Joost didn’t travel a whole lot due to a broken motor block in his coffee-ready Mercedes LF408 g van. He spent his forced downtime very well by writing his university thesis on the biodiversity of coffee production systems. Uh huh, this is one smart barista. We promised him we’d advertise his smarts to the world, and here we are.

But instead of publishing all 50 pages on this blog, we asked him to give us the highlights in crib form. Because seriously, are you going to read 50 pages of biodiversity rabblerousing? (If so, let us know, we’ll email it to you). Here’s Barista Joost’s thesis in bullet point. , ,

Coffee in Ethiopia

  • Ethiopia is unique. It is the birthplace of Arabica and natural to Ethiopia’s forests and culture.
  • Ethiopia is in the top 25 most biodiversity rich countries in the world.
  • Traditional Ethiopian agroforestry (agriculture + nature) systems exist for over 5,000 years, dating back to Gedeo land-use and Gursum Awraja.
  • Traditional systems account for 90% of coffee production in Ethiopia, ranging from Forest Coffee to Coffee Gardens. The other 10% is monoculture plantation coffee.

Thesis focus

  • What role does nature play in coffee cultivation and how best to apply biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. Both offer clear benefits to the farmers, the quality of coffee and nature itself. What’s lacking in Ethiopia, however, is ‘knowledge intensive’ farming.


  • Coffee forests can have up to 2.5 times more birds then neighbouring forests. Ethiopian coffee forests are the most bird friendly habitat in the world.
  • Coffee forests can hold as many insects as tropical forests.
  • Ethiopia is the last place on the planet that contains a wide diversity of wild coffee trees, Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC) identified over 5,000 varieties of Coffea arabica L. Breeding these varieties can help make coffee plants stronger to fight diseases and improve their yields.
  • Up to 30% of coffee production in Ethiopia comes from wild and semi-wild coffee forests, the value of wild coffee is estimated at about $130 million dollars per year.
  • Biodiversity in Ethiopia is in decline: More than 50% of Ethiopia’s natural forests have been transformed into farmlands. Less biodiversity = less ecosystem services (see next point).

Ecosystem Services

  • What are ecosystem services? The range of services an ecosystem (interacting plants and animals) provides to people and planet. We are unaware of how the great majority of ecosystem services work.
  • Shade trees provide up to 18 different ecosystem services. More than 33% of these directly improves coffee production; 33% improves the direct environment of the coffee production landscape; and the remaining % offers clear benefits to farmers, landscape and biodiversity.
  • Using fruit trees as shade trees offers farmers an extra source of income.
  • Using leguminous trees (plants like peas, beans and peanuts) or other Nitrogen Fixing Trees (NFTs) as shade trees captures nitrogen from the air into the soil, providing nutrients for coffee trees and improving yields.
  • Shade trees and coffee trees store CO2.
  • High biodiversity = high pollination, resulting in higher fruit set and thus higher yields. This is especially important because coffee only flowers for 1-2 days a harvest, which is a short timespan for insects, birds and bats to pollinate the flowers.
  • Disease resistance is substantially higher in coffee forests with high biodiversity. Diseases occur, but break-outs and pests are limited by the influence of ants, lady bugs, birds and many more animals.


  • Conserving biodiversity offers coffee farmers a natural alternative to herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers in the form of ecosystem services in a way that is more cost and energy effective in the long-term.
  • A knowledge deficit is the limiting factor for farmers to embrace biodiversity conservation. To benefit from it, farmers must first understand the somewhat complicated dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystem services. In other words, how can farmers manage and arrange their cultivation system in such a way that the dynamical interplay becomes synergistic?
  • The intensification of coffee production increases yields but, with the loss of ecosystem services like pest control, climatic resistance and pollination, the higher yields are often short-lived.

Well done Joost! Well done indeed.

The Moyee Team