Integrated Open Canopy™ (IOC)

Land-Sparing Coffee Farming that Maximizes Coffee Yields and Restores Forests

Integrated Open Canopy™ (IOC™) coffee farming, (in Spanish, “Dosel Abierto Integrado (DAI)”), is a system of forest-restoring coffee agriculture that directly contributes to the protection and/or restoration of forest habitat, and is linked with the Yoro Biological Corridor initiative. IOC™ coffee farms are based on the concept of land-sparing agriculture, requiring an equal farm-to-forest ratio. This means that at least 50 percent of a farmer’s land consists of coffee farm, with the other half consisting of conserved and/or restored forest habitat.

Most basic definition published in Conservation & Society: “Integrated Open Canopy (IOC) is a coffee growing-system in which an area of coffee is cultivated under shade conditions judged suitable by the producer, adjacent to a patch of conserved forest.” (Arce et al. 2009)

The IOC™ coffee growing system was originally developed to ameliorate coffee leaf rust infestations, but its scientists discovered many more benefits to both ecosystems and coffee growers. “Our results suggest that widespread adoption of IOC coffee could have a transformative effect in tropical agricultural landscapes by increasing forest cover while allowing for high agricultural yields.” (Chandler et al. 2013)

Maximizing Coffee Yields & Other Benefits to Growers

Coffee farmers are attracted to Integrated Open Canopy™ farming because it increases yields, and is the only land-sparing system that is linking ecological conservation with increased yields … “A principal advantage of IOC from the standpoint of the farmer is that it increases yields by allowing farmers to grow coffee in the cultivated portion in whatever conditions they choose to maximize harvests”. (Ritterson et al. 2021)

“Shade coffee in the Montes de Oro region typically yields 300-500 lbs/ha, whereas, IOC coffee yields 1,500-2,000 lbs/ha of coffee, but since half of the land is forest, this comes to 750-1000 lbs/ha, still considerably higher than shade.” (Arce et al. 2009)

IOC™ also appeals to farmers because they retain control over how to farm their coffee: “In an Integrated Open Canopy (‘‘IOC’’) coffee system, shade trees planted with coffee may be eliminated at the discretion of the farmer to control outbreaks of leaf rust and increase yields, while an adjacent forest patch of equal or greater area than coffee is conserved.” (Ritterson et al. 2021)

Restored forest areas on IOC™ farms also provide benefits to coffee growers, in the form of additional income from carbon credits as well as valuable ecosystem services for their farms. Farmers are able to sell carbon credits from the forest patches on their farms, and coffee yields are being enhanced from wind protection, erosion control, increased organic material deposition, and habitat for pollinators.

Integrated Open Canopy™ farm example in Yoro, Honduras

Biodiversity Benefits

Integrated Open Canopy™ farms have been shown to support more forest-dependant bird species (in terms of both species diversity and richness) than any other type of coffee farm. This is attributed to the restored forest areas on IOC™ farms being the closest thing to actual forest.

IOC™ farming is being shown to support as many forest-dependent bird species as forest, including many species that did not occur in shade plantations. (Ritterson et al. 2021) and “Species composition in IOC coffee was more similar to secondary forest than was shade coffee …” (Chandler et al. 2013)

In a 2018 study, “A total of 97 bird species have been identified on coffee farms practicing Integrated Open Canopy™ (IOC™) coffee farming: 72 are resident species, and 27 are migratory species.” In another (2012) study, “We detected 113 bird species, of which 49 were classified as forest-dependent.” Another sampling, which captured a total of 2,298 individuals of 148 species during 6,629 net-deployment hours from 32 sites in Costa Rica from 2006-2008, showed the following results:

“Our finding that 80% more forest-dependent species occurred in IOC coffee than in shade coffee shows that IOC coffee is more effective at providing habitat for these threatened bird species. In addition, Nearctic migrants, whose occurrence in shade coffee has been used to justify its environmental certification, were abundant in IOC coffee even though the coffee-plantation portion of the farms had few or no shade trees.” (Chandler et al. 2013)

At a landscape level, IOC™ farms are being mapped to create a larger biological forest corridor (Yoro Biological Corridor) and “could potentially contribute to the conservation of more area-sensitive or wider ranging species by facilitating movement among larger reserves, perhaps even facilitating the persistence of metapopulations.” (Ritterson et al. 2021)

The Mesoamerican Development Institute (MDI) combines IOC™ coffee production with the use of renewable energy coffee processing technology to address both the expanding coffee frontier as a major driver of high elevation forest loss, and well as address the use of tropical forest as fuelwood for conventional mechanized industrial coffee dryers (Yoro Model).