Coffee pulp used on deforested land dramatically boosts forest regrowth, study finds

Coffee pulp used on deforested land and degraded farmland can dramatically boost forest regrowth, scientists have found. 

Researchers from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii used coffee pulp, a byproduct of coffee production, to cover degraded land which had been used for agriculture in southern Costa Rica. 

In 2018, researchers spread 30 dump truck loads of coffee pulp on to about one third of an acre of degraded farmland in Costa Rica, in an area that was tropical forest until the 1950s. They also marked out a similar sized area of the nearby land which did not receive the coffee pulp treatment.  

After two years, 80% of the coffee-covered area had forest canopy, compared to just 20% on the other plot, and the tree canopy in the coffee pulp area was four times taller than that in the control area, according to a study published in the British Ecological Society journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

The coffee pulp has traces of caffeine but is less caffeine-rich than coffee grounds, and tests found that it was slightly acidic.

The scientists believe that the layer of pulp helped prevent non-native grasses from taking root in the soil, giving native trees the chance to take hold and flourish.  The coffee-treated land was also much richer in soil nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, the team found.  

Although further research is needed, Dr Rebecca Cole, lead author of the study, believes the discovery could offer a “win-win scenario”, giving coffee producers an extra revenue source and “jump start” the growth of forest recovery on land cleared for farming. 

She said: “We hope our study is a jumping off point for other researchers and industries to take a look at how they might make their production more efficient by creating links to the global restoration movement.”

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. 

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