University of Vermont


International Updates

As part of a seed grant from the Gund Institute, ARLG lab members are assessing the potential of agroecological management to support food system and climate resilience in smallholder coffee farms in the Americas.

Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group

International Research & Projects

The bulk of international research from the ARLG lab represents work in communities of smallholder coffee farmers across Mesoamerica. Our projects integrate research, teaching and outreach to address and resolve socioeconomic and environmental challenges faced by farmers and rural communities. We utilize transdisciplinary approaches and methods to analyze the social and ecological impacts and benefits that are generated when agriculture, people's livelihoods, and nature co-exist.

Sustainable nutrient management in conventional coffee farming systems - Tarrazú County, Costa Rica (Sebastian Castro)

mixed crop landscape

Conventional coffee agriculture relies on high nutrient inputs (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium). These nutrients are generally supplied through the intensive use of inorganic fertilizers, which may lead to increased water pollution and soil acidification. PhD student Sebastian Castro is identifying environmental and farm management factors associated with an efficient use of Nitrogen-based fertilizers. Preliminary results show that: increased soil exchangeable calcium correlates with higher use efficiency of nitrogen-based fertilizers; factors constraining coffee yields include pressure from fungal disease, plant pruning practices and mean annual temperature, and famers were applying excessive nutrients, not accounting for crop requirements and site characteristics. Results of this research informs farmers' management practices, leading to an average reduction in fertilizer inputs of 180 kg/ha/yr, or the equivalent of $100 ha/yr, without negatively impacting yields.

Exploring agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty and climate change with smallholder coffee farmers in Mesoamerica - Chiapas, Mexico and Northern Nicaragua (Margarita Fernandez)


In recent years a wide range of actors from academics to development organizations to research institutions and social movement actors have argued that high levels of agrobiodiversity are positively correlated with household food security, as well as increased capacity to mitigate and adapt to social and environmental change, including climate change. However, there remains little empirical data to support this. PhD candidate Margarita Fernandez is exploring the relationship between agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty and climate change by collecting quantitative and qualitative socio-ecological data among small farmers who balance subsistence and coffee production in Chiapas, Mexico, and northern Nicaragua. Preliminary data from Mexico shows that farmers who have greater diversity of edible plant and livestock species experience decreased seasonal food shortages and have higher levels of dietary diversity. The results of Margarita's research will identify best practices for food security and food sovereignty in order to assist farmers, coffee cooperatives and development organizations in designing future development strategies. These strategies will be based on diversified practices that are locally successful, locally appropriate and contribute to agrobiodiversity conservation and resilience to climate change.

Last modified February 13 2014 03:48 PM

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