Tuesday, August 7, 2007 - 2:30 PM

OOS 20-4: The conversion of rustic coffee farms to the production of a native non-timber forest product: Ecological place holder and livelihood-diversification strategy in southeastern Mexico

Skya Murphy, University of Florida and David Bray, Florida International University.

Shade-grown coffee systems have been widely heralded for their biodiversity conservation value. In Mexico, the majority of tropical forests have been modified by coffee cultivation, which can maintain the structure, function, and biodiversity of uncultivated forest. With today’s historically low coffee prices and projected continued global oversupply, shade coffee is no longer economically lucrative in many cases, putting the biodiversity contained in these systems at risk. Some small farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico have begun converting their coffee agroforests to non-forest land uses; others have chosen to replace coffee with a native bromeliad. Pita, the fiber extracted from the leaves of Aechmea magdalenae, (Bromeliaceae), is a non-timber forest product used to embroider leather. Pita producers in San Juan Lalana, Oaxaca, have organized to access programs aimed at sustainable development through pita since 1994. To measure the economic effectiveness of this strategy, per hectare pita income is compared with other land uses, providing evidence that pita out-competes cattle ranching locally. A labor analysis generates a comparison of labor returns from pita, revealing that pita income compares favorably with other regionally available opportunities. Tree species richness in forest vegetation used for pita cultivation is examined in light of the levels of biodiversity within rustic coffee farms. These data show that tree species richness in pita agroforests is comparable to that of shade-grown coffee farms studied elsewhere. Introduction of pita into coffee agroforests may reduce producers’ vulnerability to fluctuations in the coffee market and provide a source of ready cash. This sustainability evaluation of pita, which for the first time combines measures of the conservation value of pita agroforestry with household-level measures of its socio-economic impact on producer livelihoods, shows positive economic and ecological benefits. However, organizational turbulence and external economic forces mean that the future of both coffee and pita agroforestry is uncertain.