Few previous studies have directly compared the ecosystem impacts of arabica vs robusta, but just glancing at photographs of each type of farm leads one to believe that there’s no way that the average robusta growing operation has anything to do with the word “sustainable”.
So, what are the Indian farmers doing differently than the rest of the world?
The authors observed that though most farmers in Western Ghats used conventional (non-organic) fertilizer, only 19 percent of robusta growers also used pesticides compared with 75 percent of arabica farmers – likely due to the fact that the robusta variety is naturally hardier against attack from insects and mold.
In addition, these robusta growers kept way more native trees than growers in other areas.
“In fact, the surveyed robusta agroforests possessed canopy and forest cover three times higher than shade-grown coffee farms in Indonesia,” the authors wrote.
They conclude that the results are not just good news for the birds. Several types of once-lowbrow robusta now fetch market prices that are close to those of arabica, and the farms studied suggest that competitive crop yields are possible without relying on intensive farming methods. Adding this together means that the Western Ghats farming model could provide a sweet spot for the coffee industry: Efficient, profitable, and sustainable.