Friday, October 26, 2012

How to make organic fertilizer from coffee pulp

This past coffee harvest, UMF made its first steps toward producing an organic fertilizer from coffee pulp. Turning the fruit of the coffee cherry that encases the bean into an organic fertilizer helps us promote environmental and economic sustainability in coffee production. To give an idea of the importance of this, every kilogram of untreated coffee pulp contaminates the environment as much as a day’s worth of human excrement. It has been several months since we began treating coffee pulp from our processing plant, and we are excited to say that the fertilizer is ready to be applied.

There are several different ways to produce organic fertilizer from coffee pulp; the main two ways are through a vermiculture and through accelerated degradation by addition of micro-organisms. UMF did a trial of three different ways to break down toxic coffee pulp:

1) Vermiculture: 

We spread the pulp, gave it a few weeks for initial decomposition (when the temperature of the pulp and moisture content can be harmful to worms), and then added a bunch of California Red Worms, provided to us by IHCAFE. These worms eat and digest the coffee pulp, slowly breaking it down.

2) Commercial Organic Product: 

We sprayed the coffee pulp with BioAG, a commercially available, certified organic product of enzymes and micro-organisms. This product breaks down the pulp through a mixture of yeasts, sugars, and bacteria that digest the pulp.

3) Home-made Organic Product: 

With the same goal as commercial products, the home-made organic product is made using bacteria and micro-organisms found in coffee farms and then cultivated.

Gilberto and Martir take samples for soil analysis.
Each product has advantages and disadvantages. The vermiculture is relatively inexpensive (the only input is worms, which are readily available for free from a variety of sources) but requires close attention to maintain proper moisture levels. BioAG is the easiest of the three solutions, requiring only one application and no further care, but is relatively expensive. And the home-made organic product is very inexpensive, but requires a large amount of up-front work to prepare and replicate micro-organisms. It also requires a series of applications and works more slowly than BioAG or the vermiculture.

We took samples from each of the three trials and prepared them for soil analysis. These samples are on their way to the IHCAFE soil analysis lab where the three trials will be tested for macronutrients, micronutrients, and soil structure. Once we have these results, we will be able to compare ease of use, cost, and quality of organic fertilizer produced by each of the three methods.

Farmers learn about growing micro-organisms at a training
with UMF, USAID and UMA.
We are the first organization in the area to run a trial of a variety of forms of organic fertilizer production. This means that once we get soil samples back from the lab, we will be able to give informed advice to hundreds of farmers on how to best convert toxic coffee pulp into beneficial organic fertilizer.

We have already hosted a training session for farmers to show the different ways of producing organic fertilizer from coffee pulp.

We will post results from the soil analysis when they come back (generally 30-60 days), and we are excited to begin preparation for this year’s coffee harvest, when we plan to expand practical trials and research in coffee production. This will allow us to better assist farmers as they strive for better quality and environmental sustainability.


  1. There is also a way to use pulp with other products to make an organic fertilizer, called boccachi. Since it uses yeast and molasses, it provides a fertilizer in about 20 days. A friend of mine in Gracias uses this process, sells the fertilizer, and also teaches others how to make it.

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