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Exploring Coffee Pollination: Comparing Arabica with Robusta

Did you know that one-third of the total human diet in tropical countries, and even in Europe, is the result of insect pollination? Around 90% of all tropical flowering plants depend on animal pollination, with bees being the most important. We could say that bees have coevolved with us and have made our agriculture successful.


Pollination is important in many crops. However, in coffee, the story is different. The coffee we drink every morning comes from two primary species: Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. C. canepehora is commonly called to as Robusta and C. arabica refers to Arabica coffee. 

Bee Pollinating Coffee Flowers
Bee Pollinating Coffee Flowers

 

C. arabica has a higher quality taste compared to Robusta. It has a more aromatic, flavorful, and pleasant taste than Robusta's heavy, strong, cocoa flavor profile. Arabica coffee is planted in moderate temperatures of highland regions, while Robusta is planted in lowlands, which have high humidity and hotter conditions (check here why altitude matters).  

 

Robusta prices are about 25% lower than Arabica prices, but its higher production yields offset the lower price. Arabica coffee is found in gourmet and international markets, while Robusta is more often found in mixed products and instant coffees. We could keep going for hours on this, but in case it’s not clear, we’ll cut to the chase: Arabica is of higher quality than Robusta!!!

 

But the differences don't end there. If you've come this far reading about coffee, it’s probably because you already know a lot, but I bet you didn’t know this difference:

 

Arabica coffee plant is self-pollinating, producing seeds from pollen within the same flower due to having both male and female reproductive organs. On the other hand, Robusta coffee relies on cross-pollination from neighboring plants, as its flowers do not self-fertilize easily. This difference affects genetic diversity: Arabica tends to maintain uniformity, while Robusta can have greater variability within the population.



Coffee Flowers
Coffee Flowers

 

So, you might now be wondering, what happened with the bees and their important role on agriculture? Well, even though Arabica coffee plant can pollinate without the help of bees, studies have shown that coffee growing near forest patches are more likely to be pollinated by wild bees, which leads to an increase in yield (between %15 and %50) and quality.

 

Surprisingly enough, once again, I come to the same conclusion: We need to increase biodiversity in our productive systems (in case you missed why, you can check the previous blog posts). This can be achieved by introducing more species into the system, or, as in this case, by preserving small patches near the farms.

 

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