Shade-grown coffee benefits the farmers because trees on shade-grown coffee plantations have a lifespan double that of trees on plantations of sun-grown coffee.
What is Smithsonian Certified Bird Friendly Coffee?
By Amanda Sebrosky, WCAS Board Member
Most coffee that we buy in stores is grown on plantations created by clear-cutting forests. This is because farmers can produce sun-grown coffee at a much higher density than shade grown coffee. But the cheap coffee we consume has a very high price in the end (1).
The Bird Friendly® Coffee designation requires coffee farms to be certified organic, with a healthy soil base and zero pesticides (2). The program also requires a variety of native shade trees throughout the coffee plantation, benefitting native animals.
So...how does shade-grown differ from the usual coffee in stores?
To make the sunny plantations, vast tracts of forest, particularly rainforests, are clear cut, decreasing habitat for native plants and animals as well as altering the ecosystem locally AND globally.
According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, “shade-grown coffee production is the next best thing to a natural forest.” (3) because it imitates a native forest, allowing many different varieties of birds, plants, and insects to thrive in its lush growth. The increased number of birds also helps to naturally keep pests numbers low and, when you consider that ‘pesticide’ is just a euphemism for poison, that is a very good thing for birds, insects AND humans. The poisons seep into the soil, altering that ecosystem by killing plants and animals that live below ground as well as seeping into watersheds, killing fish and plants in the rivers (3) as well as exposing indigenous people to carcinogens.
Soil and water are impacted favorably by shade-grown coffee. Most of the nutrients in a rainforest are in the canopy so clear cut land requires the use of large amounts of man-made nutrients called fertilizer. Production of fertilizer requires large amounts of fossil-fuel for production and transportation leading to pollution of air, water and land. Alternatively, the leaves from the native trees on shade-grown coffee farms return nutrients to the soil; moreover, the native trees shade the soil keeping moisture and, at the same time, holding soil in place with their roots. This avoids pollution of air and water created by clear cutting of the trees.
Lastly, shade-grown coffee benefits the farmers because trees on shade-grown coffee plantations have a lifespan double that of trees on plantations of sun-grown coffee. Additionally, per one Smithsonian study, “These farms provide firewood, building materials, fruit and vegetables, medicinal and ritual plants, and other crops that maintain and sustain local communities throughout the year.” These forest systems also produce a host of other products like cacao and spices, further adding to the farmers' wealth.
The premium prices fetched by Bird Friendly® Coffee support the families and local economies of those who raise the coffee.
It’s a win-win for everyone!
References: (1) Shade-Grown vs Sun-Grown Coffee: Why It Matters (2) A Bitter Brew- Coffee Production, Deforestation, Soil Erosion and Water Contamination – Environmental ScienceBites (3) Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly® Coffee Program Protects Migratory Birds and Supports
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