Coffee waste helps rainforest recover

We’re a sucker for a good coffee news story, and here’s one that’s good news for the rainforest as well. Home gardeners have long been aware that used coffee grounds can make an efficient fertiliser as it’s rich in nutrients. Now, researchers have upscaled the experiment and spread industrial loads of coffee pulp onto degraded farmland. The results, according to the research team, were ‘dramatic’.
In 2018 the team, led by researchers from the University of Hawaii and ETH-Zurich, spread a whopping 30 dump truck loads of coffee pulp onto farmland in Costa Rica. The land, which had been tropical rainforest until the 1950s, had become degraded and infertile. The scientists marked out one third of an acre to receive the coffee, and another third of an acre to be a test area. The latter was left unfertilised for comparison.

Coffee ‘jump starts’ growth

The land was left to its own devices for two years, when researchers returned to find a staggering differences in the two parcels. Dr Rebecca Cole, lead author of the study said: “The area treated with a thick layer of coffee pulp turned into a small forest in only two years. The control plot remained dominated by non-native pasture grasses.”

Researchers believe that the coffee pulp worked in two ways. First as a fertilizer, to help species get established. Secondly as a mulch to keep non-native grasses from taking hold and strangling the growth of trees. “Our study highlights the significant potential for using agricultural waste, such as coffee pulp, to jump start forest succession on degraded tropical lands,” said Dr Cole. She pointed out that it was a win-win situation for farmers. Coffee pulp could not only become a new source of income for producers but also help to restore areas of forest previously cleared for farming.

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