Happy International Coffee Day!

Celebrating coffee and the soils that grow it

On 1 October 2015, coffee fans from around the world are joining forces to celebrate the first official International Coffee Day. But as you sip on your cup of coffee and inhale its aroma, have you ever wondered how important soil health is for the production of this plant?

Coffee plants (coffea) grow in tropical climates, between 13 and 26 degrees Celsius, but they can also withstand temperatures of up to 30 degrees. Therefore, coffee is found in the tropical areas of Africa, South America and Asia. The plants require a mixture of sun (dry season) and rain, as well as shade and sunlight.

Another feature that distinguishes the areas suitable for the cultivation of coffee is altitude: between 1000 and 2000 metres for the Coffea arabica species, and around 200-300 metres for Coffea canephora (Robusta) species.

Coffee and soil: a mutually beneficial relationship

It is widely known that soils and vegetation have a reciprocal relationship. Fertile soil encourages plant growth by providing plants with nutrients, acting as a water holding tank, and serving as the substrate to which plants anchor their roots. By supporting plant growth, nutrients in the soil make plants more tolerable to diseases and pests as well as changes in the weather. In return, vegetation prevents soil degradation by stabilizing the soil, maintaining water and nutrient cycling, and reducing water and wind erosion. This  is also the case for coffee plants and the soils they grow in.

The healthier the soil the stronger the coffee plant, this is why sustainable soil management is fundamental to ensuring healthy and productive plants. Effective extension and training systems are central to providing farmers with the knowledge and tools to ensure that their soils and plants are healthy.

Generally coffees with better cup quality originate in fertile soils that are built in rich parent materials. This indicates that the quality of the soil is an important factor for the production of quality coffee.

Moreover, coffee grains contain oily substances and fats which characterize the aromas of the various types of coffee. The characteristics of these change according to temperature, humidity and the type of soil in which they grow. In this way, soil health, along with climate and altitude, ultimately also affect coffee quality and flavour.

Don't throw out your used coffee grounds and pulps: your soil and plants need them

You can also play a role in this cycle. By composting your coffee grounds you can give precious nutrients back to the soil, while reducing and reusing food waste.

Composting is the natural process of 'rotting' or decomposition of organic matter such as residues, animal wastes and food garbage by microorganisms under controlled conditions. Compost (organic fertilizer) is important because it incorporates soil organic matter that enhances overall soil health and its resilience to shocks such as drought, including climate change adaptation.

FAO Statistical Coffee Pocketbook

FAO will shortly be releasing the FAO statistical coffee pocketbook. This publication focuses on coffee and forms part of the Statistical Yearbook suite of publications. It includes country profiles with key indicators related to coffee for selected years. Topics include a general overview (poverty, population, GDP per capita, etc.), production of coffee and related crops, consumption of coffee and related products, trade, prices and the environment. 

Take a look at the thematic graphics which offer a visual summary of key topics related to coffee production and consumption, just don't forget the soils where coffee comes from! Respecting and protecting these soils is fundamental to the production of quality coffee. 

Types of soil and ideal conditions for growing coffee  (Huehuetenango region, Guatemala)


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