CGIAR

A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

Coffee + bananas: a climate smart combination

Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT). A coffee farmer who uses the traditional system of plantain as a shade crop.
A coffee farmer who uses the traditional system of plantain as a shade crop. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

Growing coffee and banana together is generating more income for smallholder farmers, and can help them cope with the effects of climate change, according to two studies.

Ugandan farmers get 50% more income from intercropping coffee and banana than from growing either crop alone, according to a study from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture* (IITA) and partner organizations. The study, conducted in over 30 districts of Uganda, showed that coffee yield remained the same when intercropped with bananas, and the farmers gained additional income from the banana.

The results were spectacular”, says Piet Van Asten, an IITA agronomist based in Uganda. In the Arabica coffee-growing region around Mt. Elgon, annual returns per hectare averaged US$4,441 for coffee and banana grown together, compared to $1,728 and $2,364 for monocropped banana and coffee, respectively. In Robusta-growing areas in South and Southwest Uganda, annual returns per intercropped hectare averaged $1,827, compared to $1,177 and $1,286, respectively, for banana and coffee alone.

Now a recent study, conducted by Van Asten and colleagues at IITA and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture* (CIAT), suggests that intercropping coffee and banana may also help farmers cope with climate change pressures.

Average temperatures in Uganda are expected to increase by 2 degrees Celsius in the coming decades, with more erratic rainfall. This could have a considerable effect on coffee production, Uganda’s most important cash crop.  Coffee generates about 20% of the total export revenues in Uganda and provides smallholder farmers with their main cash income. Eighty percent of the coffee grown in Uganda is Robusta (Coffea cenaphora), which grows at altitudes up to 1500 meters. Arabica (Coffea arabica) accounts for 20% of the coffee grown –  and for one-third of the export revenue from coffee. Arabica requires a particularly cool tropical climate that is found only at higher altitudes, generally above 1400 meters.

Using climate models and analogues, the IITA-CIAT study found that the areas suitable for growing Arabica coffee will drastically decrease in the future. Estimates from the study indicate that losses in the region may exceed US$100 million annually, threatening not only foreign revenue for the country by also the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers who depend on the crop.

Results from the study suggest that if systems are not adapted, areas below 1300 meters will likely become completely unsuitable for Arabica coffee production. Those between 1300-1700 meters will be compromised for coffee, if farmers do not change current practices that use traditional varieties and make limited use of water conservation and shade technologies.

Intercropping coffee with banana provides a promising alternative, however. Shade from the taller banana trees can reduce temperatures for the coffee plants by 2 degrees Celsius or more. The permanent canopy, root systems, and mulch from the banana plants prevent soil erosion and degradation in Uganda’s hilly landscape. What’s more, planting banana trees in coffee fields also helps to mitigate climate change by capturing CO2 from the air and through the mulch, enriching the soil’s carbon stocks.

Banana is an important staple and cash crop in Uganda, and it is strongly linked to food security.  The country has the highest per capita banana consumption in the world.  The crop is produced year round, bringing in a more modest but continual income compared to coffee, which produces once or twice a year*.

For farmers, intercropping of banana and coffee helps to diversify income, spread risks, and improve food security. Anecdotal evidence suggests that planting coffee in the shade of banana trees may improve the quality of the beans. And coffee planted with banana has been found to have a 50% lower incidence of leaf rust than unshaded plants, which is important as pest and disease risks are rising with increasing temperatures.

With all these advantages, Van Asten and colleagues also have investigated why intercropping of coffee and banana is not more widespread. He notes that there is one main disadvantage to this technology:

The downside of adding shade or shade crops to a coffee system is that it increases competition among the different plants for water, nutrients, and light. This competition needs to be managed by using good agronomic practices such as integrating fertilizers and organic nutrient inputs, managing plant density and canopy cover appropriately, and practicing good soil and water conservation to adapt successfully to climate change,” says Van Asten.

Van Asten and his colleagues recommend a greater prioritization of intercrop research to develop and disseminate sustainable agronomic practices that fit with smallholder constraints and objectives. They also suggest the need for institutional changes and public policies to support intercropped systems, with better linkages to bring together the priorities of farmers with those of other members of the coffee value chain. The results could further tap the potential of banana + coffee systems to improve productivity and profitability across the value-chain, increase food and income security for smallholder famers, and help adapt to the inevitable challenges of a changing climate.

The research for these studies was conducted in collaboration with and with support from USAID, CIALCA, Oxfam, and NARO.

* A member of the CGIAR Consortium
** Not in the north and north-west

Photo credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

References/ More Information:
1. “Agronomic and economic benefits of coffee–banana intercropping in Uganda’s smallholder farming systems” (Agricultural Systems; full text access is restricted)
2. Banana can protect coffee from the effects of climate change (IITA News)
3. Laurence Jassogne1,2*, Piet J. A. van Asten2, Ibrahim Wanyama2 and Philippe V. BaretPerceptions and outlook on intercropping coffee with banana as an opportunity for smallholder coffee farmers in Uganda (International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability; full text access may be restricted).
4. Two Degrees Up: climate change photofilms (CCAFS resources)
5. Towards climate smart agriculture:lessons from a coffee × banana case (Wageningen)
6. Banana and Plantain Systems (IITA Factsheet)
7. In Uganda, coffee and banana go better together (CCAFS Blog)

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