Monteverde is world famous for its unique cloud forests and its biological diversity which is stunning, even for Costa Rican standards. However, if we want to conserve tropical biodiversity throughout this century, we must think beyond pristine forests and protected areas. Forests are intimately connected with the agricultural landscapes that surround them.
My students and I spent six days in Monteverde to develop independent research projects at a place called Life Monteverde. Life Monteverde was founded by families from Monteverde who integrate traditional agricultural livelihoods with agro-ecotourism and education. Activities take place on a 17 ha coffee farm, that is embedded in a landscape composed of forest fragments, pastures with scattered trees and other land-use types. The farm itself implements sustainable practices and consists of a diverse mixture of coffee plots, forests and windbreaks (strips of trees that protect crops and livestock from the constant winds and wind-blown mist in the area).
After some preparation, a thorough exploration of the place – and several cups of freshly roasted coffee – students settled in quickly at the farm and started asking questions:
Do tree species in windbreaks enhance local biodiversity?
Is coffee an invasive species?
Are there synergies between tree species diversity and carbon storage?
Is growing coffee better for soils than cattle pasture?
Do nearby forests help or hurt coffee yields?
One thing I really loved about the farm was that we got immediate feedback from the owners and workers at the place. It provided a helpful reality check on the feasibility and – more importantly – the relevance of research questions to local people.
One thing we learned is that the future of tropical biodiversity depends on how people manage their land surrounding remnant forests and protected areas. Meaningful research can help to find a balance that allows sustainable livelihoods for local farmers without further encroaching remaining forests and at the same time increase the diversity and connectivity of farms for wildlife species.