Repository logo

Landscape ecology of coffee pests in smallholdings: influence of landscape fragmentation, farming systems and a warming climate in Murang’a County, Kenya.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Coffee production systems have resulted in simplified landscapes with fragments of natural and semi-natural vegetation characterised by loss of biodiversity, high pests and disease incidences and excessive pesticide input. Consequently, the resilience of coffee landscapes against climate change impacts such as high diurnal temperature range, erratic rains, and prolonged droughts is weakened. Equally, controlling pests and diseases using natural enemies is no longer effective due to the unselective use of harmful chemicals. The present study aimed to understand the role of landscape ecology in a typical smallholder coffee-based landscape in creating suitable ecological conditions for the proliferation of coffee pests, specifically, coffee berry borer (CBB), Hypothenemus hampei, and the Antestia bugs Antestiopsis thunbergii (ABT) and A. facetoides (ABF) in an important coffee growing zone in central Kenya. The study also examined the impact of limiting temperature rise to below 2oC on habitat suitability for growing Arabica coffee to guide the implementation of the Paris agreement, which requires countries to stabilize the global mean surface temperature rise to below 1.5oC and in the worstcase scenario, well below 2.0oC above the pre-industrial levels. Firstly, the study explored Sentinel 2, Landsat 8 and PlanetScope datasets to characterise the smallholder coffee-based landscape and the level of fragmentation in each agro-ecological sub-zones of the upper midland (UM) agro-ecological zone. Sentinel 2 provides a robust dataset for land use and land cover (LULC) classification, with shortwave near-infrared and green bands being critical for classifying coffee bushes. Coffee was the dominant cover type in the higher agro-ecological sub-zones of Kenya, whereas annual crops dominated the lower sub-zones. Secondly, the study sought to identify the significant spatial scale and landscape structure that influenced the abundance of the three coffee pests, given that CBB had a low dispersal capacity and vice versa for the antestia bugs. The results showed that the pests foraged within a radius of 300m, with CBB having the shortest optimum foraging distance of 100m. The CBB abundance was strongly influenced by contiguous coffee patches, especially at higher elevations, whereas adjacent patches were more suitable for antestia bugs, especially cropland in the lower agroecological sub-zones. Thirdly, the shade and edge effect on microclimate and coffee pest abundance were examined. Generally, CBB preferred shaded coffee in the lower sub-zones and full-sun coffee in the higher sub-zones. For Antestia bugs, ABT preferred shaded coffee in all the agro-ecological sub-zones, whereas ABF preferred full-sun coffee, especially in the low sub-zones. Notable also was the influence of the edge effect of agroforest in lowering the mean temperature of full-sun coffee plots. Finally, the study looked at the impact of limiting v temperature rise to below 2oC under the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 2.6 scenario on habitat suitability for growing Arabica coffee. The results showed that the area under coffee will increase, especially in 2070, and the coffee suitable range will shift to lower sub-zones. Overall, the study revealed that the existing landscape structure in smallholder coffee agrosystems favours coffee pests proliferation. Pest pressure at the lower sub-zones is high, especially in coffee plots without shade. However, implementing climate-friendly policies will reverse the current trend, making the lower sub-zones more suitable for growing Arabica coffee. An increase in acreage for planting coffee will translate to more yields, which could alleviate poverty and grow Kenya’s gross domestic product. The study underscores the urgency for smallholder farmers to shift their coffee production systems to climate-smart options such as increasing shade in their plots. This will increase their landscape resilience against climate change and pest control. Additionally, policy makers need to implement climate policies and promote clean energy development to limit temperature rise by the end of the century.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.