Re: Organic cotton and coffee
David Hine (email@example.com)
Thu, 26 Sep 1996 18:38:59 +1000
At 08:35 AM 25/09/96 -0400, you wrote:
>Jon-Erik Rehn Posts:
>>>I am looking for practical information on cottongrowing and coffee growing
>a sustainable, echologic/organic way. I'm primarily interrested in the
>practicalities such as how to avoid certain pests and diseases, what are the
>nutrient requirements and how do I best satisfy them, what other crops are
>good for intercropping or for crop rotation etc. I might mentione that I
>hardly know anything about "conventional" production of these crops either
>so basic information or pointers to good litterature is also welcome.<<
>Coffee is a tropical understory shrub, and, like all shrubs, is a perennial.
> Sustainable coffee growing can involve multi-story cropping as a taller
>nurse crop can be grown, then coffee, and also a low, probably annual, crop
>on the ground. I've seen coffee bushes "let go" and they show no signs of
>disease or insect damage in polyculture. The polyculture depends on where
>the coffee is grown and who is growing it. Tall rangy trees such as sapote
>tend to be more suitable than dense, compact trees, such as many varieties of
>citrus, but with flexible spacing, most tropical tree crops can be grown in
>association with coffee. In some cases, for example with mango, the coffee
>would be a pioneer species to be crowded out. If soil fertility is limiting,
>coffee is commonly grown with nitrogen-fixing legumes. Using permaculture
>design principles, a food forest can be constructed with coffee as a major
>component. In this way, organic coffee becomes a cash crop for subsistence
>farmers. The trick is to get them a fair price for their product instead of
>the pittance usually paid by buyers for wholesalers or governments. Getting
>a producers coop going and keeping it going is a much more difficult problem
>than growing organic coffee.
>I have less experience with cotton but I can outline the general problems and
>one possible approach. Cotton is a very heavy feeder. Both the fiber and
>the seed contain large amounts of nutrients. (That's why untreated cotton
>rots so easily.) Moreover, the fiber and seed are attractive to insects.
> Monocrop cotton is also grown with heavy applications of herbicide so that
>no plant but cotton exists in the field. This tends to make insect problems
>much worse. As a result, cotton growing is one of the most destructive of
>Commercial varieties of cotton are annuals. There are also perennial species
>that could fit into a polyculture something like I described above, except
>that cotton requires full light. Thus it cannot be grown under taller
>plants. The perennial cotton seemed to tolerate arid conditions, however. A
>group of associates can be worked out by the people who grow it. Again, I
>think it would be best as the cash crop component of a polyculture or
>permaculture on a family subsistence farm.
>Another approach to the production of such fiber would be to look into other
>species. I've seen trees in Mexico and Asia (Malaysia and Philippines) that
>produce a hanging seed ball, something like a weird Christmas tree ornament,
>which pops open when ripe, exposing a lot of fibers rather like a cotton
>boll. I think it is called Kapok in Asia; I forget what my Mexican friends
>call their species. These trees seem to thrive in deforested areas as
>solitary or lightly populated specimens and probably can be a component of a
>forestry and/or agroforestry program. Certainly if I ran into two such
>species by chance, there are others. Banana leaves and spathes have an
>outstanding fiber that can be woven (or made into paper). Since the plant
>must be cut when the fruit is harvested (to stimulate new sprouts and thus
>more fruit), there is tons of such fiber lying about. The pith of the "stem"
>is edible by people or livestock and of no value for fiber. And there is
>I have to stress that I've outline just the barest hint of the information
>that would have to be pulled together. If possible, I'd recommend that you
>find a way to involve an experienced permaculturist, as well as local people
>who have experience with various crops that might make a polyculture.
>I hope that I've been helpful.
>For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
>1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
>consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and The Forest Ecosystem
>Food Network. P.O. Box 2052, Ocala FL 34478.
>"We don't have time to rush."
I used to be a banana grower here in Australia. I wanted every gram of the
spent pseudostem for mulch in the plantation. This was especially important
here south of Brisbane, as bananas can only be grown in frost free areas
which in the subtropics means slopes. Spent pseudostems were my first line
of defense against soil erosion. I laid them along the contour.
I have seen some banana paper, and for sentimental reasons liked it. You
couldn't grow bananas commercially without liking the plant. It's very
responsive to care, and especially perspiration! Making paper
commerciallly from banana plants would draw heavily from nutrient cycling as
well as reducing ground cover, and it's benefits to soil life and water
On the other hand plantain bananas are a common choice for intercropping
with coffee to provide the needed shade.
David, Heather, and Matthew Hine
Atkins Rd, Cawongla
via Kyogle, NSW, Australia 2474
ph/fax: 61 066 337162.