Precious Indigenous Woods For Coffee Shade

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2007: $14,967.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:
Jose Aponte
El Caribe RC&D

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: native plants, trees, ornamentals
  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: housing
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, hedgerows, riparian buffers, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: chemical control, physical control, cultivation
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, employment opportunities


    Our first project goal was to develop commercial quality wood seedlings through a production system based on forestry tube containers. The motivation behind this goal was to replace the current wood seedling system in use in Puerto Rico which relies on plastic bag containers. The current system was judged to be unsustainable due to its economic and environmental costs, and also agronomic deficiencies. The tube container system was based on 3 components: Large Deepot cell containers supported by trays, non soil growing mix based on organic materials, vermiculite, perlite and pumice, and hand watering irrigation with sprinkler water cans.

    Our second goal was to provide the tube seedlings for farmers to combine coffee with non-traditional precious wood trees. Besides higher returns, precious woods provide shade on coffee crops and other multiple benefits on natural resources.

    The results demonstrate that deepot cell containers solve the problem posed by bagged wood seedlings at the nursery and to coffee farmers. Tubed seedlings showed adequate development above ground, and root systems superior to bagged seedlings, and faster establishment. So far, survival rates have been good. Production costs for the tube seedlings are much less than the bag product and the environmental impact is minimal.


    Coffee, one of the largest agricultural sectors with 14,000 limited resource farmers, was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1755. Coffee was first produced in Puerto Rico by thinning native woodland and then planting coffee. The original coffee farmers soon came to identify native species with the best characteristics for coffee shade and wind protection from hurricanes. These original species were later replaced primarily with Inga vera for uniform shade. This resulted in a bicultural production system. This was even later replaced by mono cultured full sun coffee which is not appreciated by environmentalists because of the environmental degradation in this ecological zone. Seventy percent of the crop is full sun coffee; the other thirty percent is shade coffee grown under traditional tree species such as Inga vera and Gliricidia sepium. Sun grown coffee is not sustainable because of the following reasons:

    • limited returns at the farm level
    • hurricanes damage in coffee plantations
    • increase erosion and reduced bio-diversity

    At present time limited returns at the farm level is causing a serious threat to the Coffee Industry in Puerto Rico. The Coffee Industry transitioning from a protected market to an open market is due to US trade agreements. Coffee producers are responding by attempting to produce world class coffee in order to enter gourmet and specialty markets. They are also interested in coffee shade trees that produce a higher return and are potentially as valuable as the coffee. 

    The coffee with the highest potential to enter international markets is the higher elevation coffee above 2,400 feet in elevation. The coffee has special conservation needs to control erosion. Traditional shade agro forestry systems are not usually acceptable as they lead to more fungus problems in this cooler environment. Alley cropping (usually on the contour) is more suited to providing the lighter shade needed in this system. Alley cropping is also an excellent method to reduce hurricane damage in coffee as alley cropping also functions as windbreaks.

    The sun grown coffee has increased erosion and reduced bio-diversity. A massive destruction to our forest areas was caused by this mono cultured system; buffers zones have been destroyed. Native wood trees had been removed; some of these are threatened and endangered species. Sun grown coffee in this region requires high application levels of chemical products and fertilizers. Sediment accumulation has greatly reduced the storage capacity of the principal water-supply reservoirs in Puerto Rico.

    Project objectives:

    The first objective is to measure and evaluate the seedlings based on standard criteria and tests in use in the nursery facility. These will include:

    • Height, and
    • Percent Survival

    The second objective is to transplant at coffee farms. The seedlings also will be evaluated inside coffee crops in 3 separate farms (3 acres each) for:

    • Height
    • Percent Survival, and
    • Diameter
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.