Date of Award

Spring 2017


M.S. in Environmental Policy


Professor Jennifer Phillips

Second Reader

Professor Gautam Sethi

External Reader

Dr. Pablo Siles, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centro International de Agricultura Tropical


Climate change has recently shifted focus to adaptation and mitigation strategies in coffee production. Shade coffee systems, already widely recognized for their contribution to biodiversity and soil conservation, are now drawing attention for their role in carbon storage. Researchers have generally assumed that high carbon storage must come at the expense of reduced crop yields, implying that farmers must choose between sustainability and profit. This study uses field inventories of 70 farms in Jinotega, Nicaragua to estimate this tradeoff in smallholder shade coffee systems. Field inventories were used to develop three typologies representing different shade management strategies in use in the region. SExI-FS modeling of a subsample of nine farms then illustrates potential carbon storage improvements through scenarios for altered shade management. Interviews with farmers and cooperative officials revealed attitudes toward potential management strategies, priorities and constraints regarding shade management, and interest in a potential carbon payment program. Sample farms supported aboveground carbon stocks ranging from 2.16 to 180.39 Mg/ha, with average aboveground carbon storage of 26.16 Mg/ha. When soil organic carbon at a depth of 0-50 cm was included, estimated carbon stocks rose to an average of 160.10 Mg/ha. SExI-FS modeling demonstrated that carbon storage is not strongly linked to shade cover, suggesting that carbon stocks can be enhanced without sacrificing crop yields. Management scenarios added an average of 13.92 MgC/ha with no increase in estimated shade. Interview participants held a wide range of priorities regarding shade management, but all indicated that they would like to change their shade management if they had the financial and technical resources available. Thirteen of 14 participants stated that they would be interested in participating in a carbon payment program if one were to be developed. My results suggest that while carbon stocks in Jinotega’s smallholder shade coffee systems are significant, they can be enhanced through changes in shade management. The additional carbon stocks would also attract higher carbon payments, leading to improved coffee cooperative revenues. With access to greater financial resources, these cooperatives could provide long-term credit and hire technicians to facilitate changes in shade management to improve carbon storage in smallholder shade coffee systems.

Access Control

Open Access