Coffee perks up forest regeneration
April 1, 2021 | 2:17 pm CDT

(A) Freshly added layer of coffee pulp on post‐agricultural land. (B) Control treatment 2 years after initiating the study. (C) Woody vegetation growing on coffee pulp treatment 2 years after initiating the study. Photo credits R. Cole. (D) Aerial view of the coffee pulp treatment (bottom) and the adjacent control treatment (top) one year after initiating the study. Photo credit R. Zahawi

People aren't the only ones stimulated by coffee.

A new study finds coffee pulp, a byproduct of coffee production, can be used to accelerate tropical forest growth on post-agricultural land.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii spread a 0.5-meter layer of coffee pulp on a 35 x 40-meter area on post‐agricultural land in southern Costa Rica, with an adjacent similar-sized control plot as a control. In just two years, from 2018-2020, the land layered with coffee pulp had more than 80 percent canopy with trees over 4 meters tall, compared to 20 percent in a nearby control area, and much smaller tree growth.

The findings, "Coffee pulp accelerates early tropical forest succession on old fields," were published March 28 in the British Ecological Society's journal, Ecological Solutions and Evidence, by Dr. Rebecca Cole and Rakan A. Zahawi, authors of the research.

In addition to the increase in the forest canopy, researchers also found nutrient levels, including carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorous, iron, and magnesium were significantly elevated in the coffee pulp area compared to the control. Grass cover also was nearly eliminated in the coffee pulp treatment, whereas more than 80 remained in the control treatment.

"While using a nutrient‐rich waste product like coffee pulp in the restoration of tropical forests is an attractive prospect, much work remains to be done to assess its viability," the researchers noted. Notwithstanding, the single‐site case study provides encouraging news for forest recovery efforts.

Research funding was provided by the March Conservation Fund. More information on the study can be found on the British Ecological Society's journal website.

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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at