Circle coffee back to the forest

sep 8, 2022

Christina Singh
Innovation project manager, Löfbergs

Our current economic system is linear – We take resources, we make valuable products, we use them, and wewaste a lot on the way.

Our global food system is no exception: We deforest landscapes, we deplete soils, and we drain freshwater reserves. To max out productivity, we spread chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. Ironically, more than one-third of all food produced is wasted across the value chain.

Conventional agriculture uses one third of all land, is the driver of 60-70% biodiversity loss, leaving 25% of all land degraded. Conventional agriculture is also a main contributor to climate change, as 31% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to agriculture and land use changes.

Circular agriculture aims at regenerating natural systems and cycles by minimizing external inputs and closing nutrient loops. One example is agroforestry i.e., combining trees and agricultural crops on the same plot. The trees can provide habitat for wildlife in agricultural landscapes and create a microclimate that protects crops from direct sun exposure and weather extremes while humidity. Agroforestry reduces the need for chemical inputs, as soil fertility is improved by decaying organic matter from the trees. From a socio-economic perspective, agroforestry provides a more diverse range of products which translates into reliable income streams for farmers.

Circular practices have been common practice, but large-scale and intensified monoculture outcompeted regenerative agriculture. Coffee maybe best illustrates the need to returning to agroforestry systems: Coffee originates from the forest, typically grown in biodiversity hotspots. But today coffee has become a cash crop. Driven by a regime of low and volatile market prices, open-field, monocrop farming is the most common practice today. Sun production yields more in the short-term, but places stress on coffee plants, making them prone to pests and diseases, and requiring agrochemicals. Climate change exacerbates this vicious circle, as production systems are not resilient to temperature increases, changes in precipitation, and extreme weather events.