Morning Cuppa: The Agroforestry Behind Our Coffee Breaks

At conferences, we live for coffee breaks. They are the times when we take a breather from presentation after presentation, the places where we meet new people and reconnect with old colleagues, and of course the spot to refuel. For many of us, that sustenance of choice is coffee, and (at least in my book) chocolate-covered biscuits are the best complement. That’s all pretty standard for organized events. But what makes the coffee breaks at a meeting like Tropentag unique is the array of experts present to relay the story behind the coffee, tea, biscuits, and fruit.
Conference Dinner & Party So as I wandered around posters this morning, it struck me that these studies are not merely relevant to those specific geographies or ecosystems and to the local people and communities. There are also ties not very far removed from life outside of our study sites. And yet, we don’t always think about what lies beyond the mug when sipping at a conference venue. With a taste for chocolate, I gravitated toward any and every bit of research about cocoa to learn the latest on my favourite confection. The Agroforestry session this morning bore some serious fruit. Issaka Adbulai tackled questions about yield gaps and future climatic challenges in western Ghana, remarking how the drier northern regions have the greatest yield gap for cocoa. While this could be a sign of difficulties to come for Theobroma cacao, people are adopting their practices and livelihoods with more fruit trees for shade and greater diversification of income sources. It’s not just about the agronomy, though. Ariani Wartenberg presented her work in Sulawesi, Indonesia, looking at soil fertility indicators across an intensity gradient from monoculture cocoa to secondary growth forest. Only the secondary forest demonstrated significantly different (and higher) soil quality. With the other two major cocoa producers slated to experience increase climate pressures, as noted above, more of this secondary forest in Indonesia may make way for this “Prima Donna” of crops! At the heart of chocolate is the people producing the beans. On the first day, Carlo Giallombardo elevated this discussion with his work with a Waorani women’s association in the Ecuadorian Amazon. There cacao is a sign of changing times, a crop women have taken on to earn some extra income and curb some of the pressure on local wildlife from increased hunting by the men. For a historically mobile, hunter-gatherer indigenous group, it is unclear how the entrance into a cash crop market will sit with the group in the long-run. This was just a nibble of the scientific knowledge and social understanding embedded in the chocolate-covered biscuit. And I haven’t even taken my first sip of coffee! (but there are some nice posters on the subject…) **Updated photo coming soon!


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