Coffee is the 2nd most traded commodity internationally after oil and occupies large areas of plantations and small farms throughout the tropics. Production issues range from soil fertility, agrochemicals, plant pests/diseases, benefits of insect (bee) pollination, use of biological control agents. The scientific literature on the benefits of bee pollination for coffee is convincing. Robusta requires cross-pollination by wind and insects; without the latter yields are lower. Arabica is self-fertile but bee pollination enhances quantity and quality of yield. Managed pollinators, e.g. honeybees are not usually deployed, even though shown to increase yields and produce honey while doing so. Wild bees are commoner closer to forest patches than in centres of plantations where yields are less. Coffee plants in given areas bloom together and over a short time but a problem for harvest is asynchronous ripening of berries. Hand harvesting ripe berries must take place several times. Mechanical harvesting is wasteful: unripe berries are discarded or used for inferior coffee, and requires post-harvest sorting. Thus, pollination would a) improve yields in quantity and quality, and b) may improve synchronicity and uniformity of fruit-set, so reducing harvesting and sorting costs.
The innovation of pollinator biocontrol agent vector technology adds another benefit to managed pollinators for crop production. Not only can yields be improved, the crop can be protected from important diseases and insect pests, separately or simultaneously, as demonstrated on crops as diverse as greenhouse vegetables, tender fruit, and some field crops. This technology seems applicable to coffee, which suffers from similar diseases and pests as other crops. The pollinator biocontrol agent dispensing system uses pesticide-free material and can be registered “organic”. Thus, growers who may embrace the proposed system could enjoy added benefits through higher certification and prices.
Our project is to develop an integrated system of pollinator management to enhance coffee production through better, more synchronous pollination, coupled with pollinator disseminated anti-pest and anti-disease biocontrol agents.
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