Forest Ecology and Management vol:261 pages:1034-1041
Coffea arabica shrubs are indigenous to the understorey of the moist evergreen montane rainforest of Ethiopia. Semi-forest coffee is harvested from semi-wild plants in forest fragments where farmers thin the upper canopy and annually slash the undergrowth. This traditional method of coffee cultivation is a driver for preservation of indigenous forest cover, differing from other forms of agriculture and land use which tend to reduce forest cover. Because coffee farmers are primarily interested in optimizing coffee productivity, understanding how coffee yield is maximized is necessary to evaluate how, and to what extent, coffee production can be compatible with forest conservation.
Abiotic variables and biotic variables of the canopy were recorded in 26 plots within 20 forest fragments managed as semi-forest coffee systems near Jimma, SW Ethiopia. In each plot, coffee shrub characteristics and coffee yield were recorded for four coffee shrubs. Cluster and indicator species analysis were used to differentiate plant communities of shade trees. A multilevel linear mixed model approach was then used to evaluate the effect of abiotic soil variables, shade tree plant community, canopy and stand variables, coffee density and coffee shrub size variables on coffee yield.
Climax species of the rainforest were underrepresented in the canopy. There were three impoverished shade tree communities, which differed in tree species composition but did not exhibit significant differences in abiotic soil variables, and did not directly influence coffee yield. Coffee yield was primarily determined by coffee shrub branchiness and basal diameter. At the stand level a reduced crown closure increased coffee yield. Yield was highest for coffee shrubs in stands with crown closure less than median (49 ± 1 %). All stands showed a reduced number of stems and a lower canopy compared to values reported for undisturbed moist evergreen montane rainforests.
Traditional coffee cultivation is associated to low tree species diversity and simplified forest structure: few stems, low canopy height and low crown closure. Despite intensive human interference some of the climax species are still present and may escape local extinction if they are tolerated and allowed to regenerate. The restoration of healthy populations of climax species is critical to preserve the biodiversity, regeneration capacity, vitality and ecosystem functions of the Ethiopian coffee forests.