Internship or thesis project on early stage coffee plant development

Supervisor: Ken Giller with Olam Coffee

Coffee cultivation is under pressure with current low prices; it is essential for coffee farmers, small or large, to increase efficiencies, improve productivity and reduce cost, in a sustainable manner.  To this end, they need to optimize the different phases of development of the trees, while take steps to improve their resilience against biotic and abiotic stresses.

One critical stage in the development of the coffee tree is the period from seed to planting, during which the plantlets need to develop vigorously to ensure good establishment in the field.  This period, which includes germination and early vegetative development, spans a period of 3-5 months.  With a vigorous root system and healthy above ground biomass, the young plant will develop rapidly once planted and deliver a healthier, earlier bearing plant.

The nursery phase of coffee development is not very well understood from a physiological perspective and can be optimized in many respects, not only for seedlings, but also for grafted plants derived from them or rooted cuttings.  Optimizing development of the coffee plant in the nursery guarantees a smoother transition in the field and better future economic returns.

The proposed project aims at better understanding early coffee plant development and at optimizing nursery practices for seedlings and for grafted plants.   Our objective is to provide answers to the following questions:

-       What is the need of young plantlets for nutrients and water? What is the response to different nutrient and water regimes?

-       What are light needs at the different stages?

-       What are the main pest and disease issues?  How can they be addressed in the most sustainable way?

-       What is the optimal root morphology, root/substrate ratio, nature of substrate?

-       What are critical factors to improve grafting success rates?

-       Can the foundation be laid for a physiological model of coffee plantlets during the nursery stage?

We are looking for a motivated and adventurous MSc student, to helps us answer the above questions as part of his/her thesis research or internship, on Olam’s coffee plantation in Zambia. 

The student would work as part of our plantation team and benefit from technical support to perform the needed experiments

Olam Coffee will cover the cost of flights to/from Zambia, subsistence and will offer accommodation to the student.  Other costs will be at the charge of the student or the university

Period: as soon as possible

Location: Zambia

Duration: 5 months