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The Birds and the Bees: Biodiversity on a Costa Rican Coffee Farm

biodiversity in Costa Rican coffee farm

Photo by Larry Jacobsen

In the first installment of the weeklong series “Food for 9 Billion,” PBS Newshour and American Public Media explore how biodiversity may be affecting small farms in Costa Rica.

The piece features the coffee farm of 65-year-old Ademar Serrano Abarca. Instead of following a typical tack in small tropical farms when he bought his land 10 years ago, Abarca left about one quarter of his farm untouched, letting the forest regenerate, rather than clearing his entire 10-acre property.

In a discussion with host Sam Eaton, Gretchen Daily, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, sheds the most light on how biodiversity, even on such small farms, can realistically result in a boon in coffee production

She relates the issue to the birds:

So, what we’re trying to find out is how many insects do they eat. If you have this little bit of tree cover here, how many Warblers will you have, and how much of a boost will the Warblers give to the coffee farmers? This one eats the biggest and most worrying pest on coffee. We found in its droppings a lot of those little bugs that are really destroying the coffee. So it adds a huge boost to the income of farmers.

And the bees:

you need to have forests integrated into the coffee farm right next to where the farmers are working, and the bees then fly out, and they’re workers, just like the people are. On the one farm where we worked, we have measured the value of that, and it boosts yield by about 20 percent, and that led to an income boost of about $60,000 dollars per year, which really put those farmers into a good economic position.

Click here for full audio of the piece.