Action plan for the triennium 2012-2015
To date, any role of pollinating insects in coffee production has been taken largely for granted, and there is no well-established commercial basis on which to start this project. On the positive side, honey bees (Apis mellifera) have co-evolved with coffee species in eastern Africa, they are in all regions where coffee is grown, and there is a defined tradition of apiculture in those coffee producing countries, if not in the coffee growing areas.
The project will commence with the promotion of this project’s concepts and goals to the broad membership of the international coffee industry in 2013. We intend to hold a collaborative workshop with the International Coffee Organization’s (ICO’s) International Coffee Council Meeting in London during March 4-8, 2013, at which we will outline the objectives of the project to representatives of the coffee producing nations, the coffee grower organizations, the coffee certification organizations, and others representing the socio-economics of the international coffee industry. This workshop will enable us to identify which nations in which to work, with which governmental and academic bodies, and with which growers. In this regard, it is critical to associate with only those countries in which there is a prominent governmental agency to support applied research, and in which there is also an extensive academic body of pollination researchers with whom to partner. At present, Brazil and Mexico are leading nations in terms of these last two criteria. At this time, given the support of coffee producing nations and the ICO, we will apply for further, short-term, funding from the Common Fund for Commodities (ca. $100,000). This is a global funding agency affiliated with the United Nations, to fund projects in commodity production in developing nations. At this time we will also identify potential graduate students in the host nations who would undertake the field research.
The first to second year of the project will entail site visits to selected countries (e.g. Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, Kenya, Rwanda, Viet Nam) to confirm where the projects will take place. These visits will be preceded by extensive “in office” analyses of each potential region’s coffee industry and related characteristics pertaining to the project. It is vital to ensure that in each selected site there is a capacity for honey bee apiculture, or the ability to create it. The use of globally-standardized bee hives facilitates the attachment and use of the bio-vectoring technology to transfer disease and pest controlling agents to coffee flowers. At each site, we will determine how to deploy control and experimental treatment operations to achieve well-replicated, statistically-robust data sets for analysis. At this stage of the project, the collaboration of coffee growers, university researchers and graduate students, and governmental research departments is critical.
During year two, we will also submit funding application to the Common Fund for Commodities for longer-term (3 year) funding of the project to continue internationally, as their criteria require (ca. $2 million). Running parallel to the applied R & D will be an emphasis on information and education (in both printed and electronic media) in cooperation with the ICO and other national bodies. A vital part of this is creating within the coffee grower communities an understanding of the biovectoring technology using apiculture and the capacity to deploy it successfully.
Years 2-3 will be the collection of the data from the control and experimental sites and their analysis. This will give the first indications of how effective managed honey bees are in augmenting pollination, achieving a greater synchronicity of fruit ripening, and distributing disease/pest control agents to coffee plants and flowers. Should funding allow, we intend to operate this project in differing types of coffee plantations so that the geographic scale of production can be examined. Thus the success of pollination by managed honey bees and the reduction of diseases/pests by biovectored control agents can be measured in open-sun large-scale coffee monocultures to smaller-scale more shaded plantations. Similarly, should funding allow, we could compare the success of the proposed project in regions (or countries) where different climate and growing conditions prevail, and might influence the contributions of managed honey bees.
A critical aspect of this project deals with the underlying socio-economics at the level of the coffee growers. The project has not only to be biologically successful, but must also be able to improve the economic returns to growers, both directly in terms of the yield and quality of the crop harvested, and indirectly, as when coffee grown consistent with this project’s criteria qualifies for a higher rank of certification, and so sells for an intrinsically higher price. We will conduct an economic analysis of this venture, factoring in the costs of inputs, such as the costs of establishing and maintaining managed honey bee colonies, the biovectored disease control agents and their application, savings from reduced conventional chemical applications, contributions of managed pollinators to other economically-valuable crops in non-coffee seasons, savings from reduced unripe coffee fruit harvest, gains in prices from a greater quantity and quality of coffee beans, and gains from potentially a higher certification status, and costs of learning how to use the new technology, to mention a few of the criteria.