Tropical rainforests cover only 7% of the earth’s surface, but they are by far the richest biomes in terms of vascular plant diversity. To ensure the resilience and long-term stability of tropical rainforests, fostering the regeneration of the occurring woody plant species is critical. Yet, crucial aspects of gene flow, including pollination and seed dispersal, have become strongly jeopardized through ongoing large-scale anthropogenic disturbances of tropical forests. Furthermore, many crop wild relatives from tropical forests face the risk of hybridization with planted cultivars.
The general objective of this project is to study the population genetic structure, gene flow and the pollination and frugivorous communities of Robusta coffee, a tropical rainforest understory shrub, in the Congo Basin. Comparing coffee populations from regions that differ in their degree of anthropogenic pressure, will enable us to investigate the potential threats from anthropogenic interferences.
Within the FORETS- project (“FOrmation, Recherche, Environnement dans la TShopo”), Meise Botanic Garden has as goal to reinstate the INERA-Yangambi as a reference centre for Robusta coffee, aiding in research as well as its conservation and multiplication. During the project, local staff is trained in collection management and in the collecting of new genetic resources of coffee. The coffee nurseries are rehabilitated, the ex-situ collection is reorganized, evaluated and complemented with new genetic resources collected in the Congo Basin.
This project combines knowledge about coffee and agroforestry together with experiences from other projects by the construction of production, demo and experimental fields on the sites of INERA Yangambi. This will make it possible to perform multiple functions in one cultivation system: food supply (fruit-bearing shade trees, plantain & bananas, host trees for the popular edible caterpillars which are an important source of protein, organic waste and wood for mushroom production), energy and construction wood (shade trees), income from cash crops such as coffee, carbon storage in wood, and so on.
This agricultural system allows to reduce the pressure on natural forests by the prevailing but rather unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture. It could reduce carbon emissions from agriculture drastically or even bend it to a net fixation. By implementing the project on a site where other projects, both on coffee and on the carbon cycle and sequestration, are already in progress, we guarantee the continuity and embedding of this project in a broader context. In this way, we can continue to build on existing structures and cooperation agreements. Collaboration with local and international partners will be continued. In addition, the project will also be able to make an important contribution to the development of research and sustainable economic activities in the buffer zone of the “Man and Biosphere Parc Yangambi”.
All this in order to evaluate and develop a sustainable and climate-resilient production of high-quality Robusta coffee as an engine for developing a green economy in the Yangambi region and to contribute to carbon capture in the context of REDD +. By installing and following up on the experimental plots, the agroforestry system will be evaluated.