Shade tree selection and management practices by farmers in traditional coffee production systems in Jimma Zone, Southwest Ethiopia
There is a traditional practice of forest management in coffee producing communities in Ethiopian moist Afromontane forests to increase coffee production. The practice involves removal of big canopy trees with excessive shade and selectively retaining specific tree species as preferred shade trees. This study was initiated to assess farmers’ traditional coffee shade tree selection and management practices. Data on shade tree selection and management were collected through semi-structured interviews of 120 informants and two focus group discussions in two localities with distinct coffee forest characteristics. The result revealed that, farmers’ decision in the removal and retention of canopy trees is based on their knowledge of the tree species attributes such as height, crown architecture, leaf size and deciduousness, leaf decomposition rate, impact on soil fertility, effect on coffee bean quantity and quality. Based on these criteria, Albizia schimperiana Oliv., A. gummifera (J.F.Gmel.) C. A. Sm, Acacia abyssinica (Hochst.) ex. Benth. and Millettia ferruginea (Hochst.) Baker, all nitrogen fixing leguminose species with spreading crowns, intermediate and manageable height, small deciduous compound leaves and fast rate of litter decomposition were considered as preferred coffee shade trees by farmers. Coffee shrubs growing under the shade of these trees are considered by farmers as having higher productivity and superior cup quality. In areas of high population pressure, the shade tree selection is intense that only the preferred shade trees are available in the coffee forests, while in areas where population density is sparse. This indicates that there is a compromise between coffee production and other ecosystem services such as honey production, where some trees such as Schefflera abyssinica (A. Rich) Harms. are retained for their flowers for foraging bees and Olea welwitschii (Knobl.) Gilg & G.Schellenb. for their height and shape for putting traditional beehives. Therefore, the impact of the reported quality of shade trees by farmers in improving coffee productivity and cup quality must be scientifically proved to recommend the practice to other areas.
Keywords: Coffea arabica, shade tree, traditional coffee management, coffee quality