We all love honey bees for their amazing products but have you ever considered that they can be crucial to coffee cultivation? Honey bees are nature’s most well known pollinator and coffee plants have proven themselves ideal for collecting pollen. Today, we’re going to look at the benefits this can have for coffee production.
What is pollination?
During pollination, pollen is being transferred from the male part of the blossom to the female one. This is the way plants evolve and give birth to new ones. In some cases wind can be a pollinator just like bees and butterflies.
As for the coffee plant, there’re actually more than one hundred species of it in the world, but there only two of those are cultivated and consumed: the Arabica and the Robusta. Arabica is a self-pollinating species (doesn’t need bees) while Robusta relies on cross pollination (needs bees).
But what does this all mean for coffee production? Before we dive into the details, let’s first consider the enemies of the coffee plant.
The Enemies of the Coffee Plant
The coffee plant, like many other plants, is vulnerable to nature’s ways and at the same time depends on them. Some of its biggest enemies are climate change and endemic pest diseases and leaf rust. The latter for example spreads across coffee plants like the flu and has a severe impact on coffee production.
As for pest diseases, the most common way to fight them these days are chemical pesticides. However, that’s not always effective and definitely not ideal to be fighting natural threats with chemical means, as other issues could arise, like endangering the natural biodiversity of the plantation.
All these enemies of the coffee plant have a direct effect on the farmers’ income and overall coffee production, as year after year they watch their crops being attacked by diseases. So, what’s there to be done? Luckily, there is a natural way to help crops adapt better to their natural environment and help with farmer’s income at the same time: beekeeping!
Nature’s Most Perfect Marriage
As we all know, honey bees are the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. But how can that help coffee crops? Like we mentioned, Arabica, which is the world’s most popular coffee species, is self-pollinating. This basically means that pollination takes place before the plant produces blossoms.
However, there are a number of Arabica varietals that can be cross-pollinated as well. This usually happens by insects or the wind. In these cases, cross-pollination by bees can lead to the birth of hybrid varietals, which in turn will be better adapted to their local climate. This perfect marriage between coffee and honey could be nature’s answer to the issues coffee crops face.
Climate change has brought about many changes in farmers’ lives worldwide and it’s essential to think ahead and observe how these changes affect livelihoods. It’s possible that many of our favourite coffee varietals will soon cease to exist but we have to keep our minds focused on new, stronger and adaptable varietals that will secure the future of the coffee industry.
The Amazing Products of the Honey Bee
Beekeeping is not only a natural way to face coffee crops issues, it’s a source of income in itself. Honey bees are nature’s tiny wonder, providing us with products such as honey, wax, pollen, propolis and royal jelly. What’s more, even queen bees themselves can be sold at a good price for people looking to start their own hives.
However, the most popular product out of all the above is undoubtedly the honey. Coffee blossom honey is produced in many places around the world, like Asia, Africa and South America. Much like coffee, coffee blossom honey has its own flavour profile depending on various factors like origin, climate etc.
Many coffee farmers have learnt how to produce their own single origin coffee blossom honey with great success. Another interesting fact is that beekeeping does not require ownership of land. So it can become a source of income for those who you usually don’t own land, like young people starting a business or marginalised community members.
What does this mean for the future of coffee?
The benefits of beekeeping in coffee farms are evident. Climate change and pest diseases are natural enemies of coffee so it’s best we leave it up to nature again to protect coffee crops by introducing more pollinators in coffee farms. There are many organisations within the coffee industry that are working to achieve that.
This way we will have new varietals to cultivate and new flavours in our cup but at the same time we will have products such as delicious coffee blossom honey and better income for the workers. So, hats off to the honey bee!