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Growing Together: Coffee and Rainforest Trees

A long-standing proverb from the Sena tribe of Mozambique says: “Go in that direction” does not mean that you go; [rather] to go means “let’s go together!” On Mount Gorongosa we are planting coffee and rainforest trees that work side-by-side, with each tree rooted in change. Here’s how these forest friends are working (and growing!) together to push an ecosystem in the right direction.

TREE TEAMWORK

Reforestation takes teamwork. Each year, 300,000 coffee trees and 50,000 rainforest trees are planted on Mount Gorongosa. Farmers intercrop the coffee trees with native hardwood trees to give coffee the shade it needs to grow. This promotes the diverse benefits of agroforestry and helps overcome the effects of past subsistence farming.

shade grown coffee farm

Multiple studies have shown that the direct and indirect benefits of shade-grown coffee are comparable to that of a natural forest and research completed by Master’s student António Ngovene on Mount Gorongosa confirmed this. The planting method isn’t only helping to restore an ecological wonder, but it’s regulating carbon emissions, encouraging soil fertility, and supporting biodiversity. Watch the video below to learn more about António’s research!

CARBON CAPTURE CAN GET SHADY

Carbon dioxide may be invisible, but its damage isn’t. This colorless gas negatively impacts the ecosystem when it’s too high or too low. When compared to sun-grown coffee trees, shade-grown trees are able to capture more carbon — helping reduce the harm it can cause when released into the atmosphere.

women planting rainforest trees

The shade-grown method also promotes stable growth conditions and fights the negative effects of climate change on bean quality. This, combined with the trees’ abilities to regulate oxygen levels and nutrient cycles, makes this coffee growth style a favorable choice in the battle against carbon irregularities.

SOIL IS A POWERFUL SIDEKICK

A thriving coffee plantation may steal the show like an action-film superhero, but it wouldn’t be anywhere without its sidekick, soil. The shade provided from the rainforest trees prevents the excessive nutrient loss seen with leaching — a problem that can be provoked by too much sun exposure.

watering rainforest tree saplings

Soil health is not only a fundamental part of coffee growth, it also impacts the entirety of Mount Gorongosa. The protection offered by the trees allows the coffee to thrive and maintains the well-being of the crops. This ensures the trees are ready for the mountain’s farmers to harvest their coffee at the expected time and earn a sustainable income for their communities.

BIRDS AND BEANS ARE BUDDIES

Where the beans grow, birds follow. It has been found that shaded coffee plantations can attract many species of birds. Mount Gorongosa is no exception! António also discovered that our coffee plantation welcomes a wide variety of birds, including two endemic and migratory species, like the Green Headed Oriole below!

The shady plantation serves as a refuge for the birds, and they return the favor with pest control. Birds consume herbivorous insects that pose a danger to coffee plants. Keeping the plants insect-free encourages pollination, the continued expansion of the forest, and reduces the need for chemical pesticides.

While growth takes time, it doesn’t have to be done alone! Our shade-grown process continues to support reforestation efforts on the mountain and beyond, and every step towards a restored ecosystem moves us in the right direction. This goal is achieved with help from our farmers, their communities, and coffee-drinkers like you!

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