Article: Made in the Shade

Written by Cafe Campesino on Aug 1, 2002 in Article, NEWSLETTER |
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Producer News: Made in the Shade
by Daniel Pistone

For centuries, coffee was literally made in the shade. But through biotech intervention in the 1970s, coffee ecosystems became vulnerable. New genetic-modified coffee trees or hybrids introduced by agribusinesses began to replace native coffee species and eradicate the traditional coffee growing methods, which have demonstrated their sustainability for generations.

In traditional growing systems, coffee is grown under a canopy of shade trees, which protect sun-sensitive coffee plants and preserve native ecosystems. These trees — banana, citrus, avocado, timber and other native flora — also supply potential supplemental income for farming communities. But agribusinesses found a way to increase yields by “tricking” coffee plants to grow in the sun.

With the resultant hybrid strains, the sun-tolerant technified system acts as a kind of steroid and causes the tree to produce more. But to achieve high yields with sun coffee, the land must be cleared and the plants grown in dense hedge rows using heavy applications of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. The agrochemicals and erratic deforestation that the sun coffee process depends upon are associated with lower levels of environmental quality: water pollution, soil degradation and a steep drop in the number and diversity of migratory songbirds.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has conducted extensive research on the effects of deforestation from sun-grown production in relationship to songbird population declines. In fact, their studies in Colombia and Mexico found a staggering 94-97% fewer bird species in areas devoted to the production of sun grown coffee than in farms devoted to growing shade grown coffee. This is just one of the alarming facts that have prompted many bird-loving coffee drinkers, including our loyal Café Campesino customers, to petition against sun-grown by buying shade-grown coffee, which includes Café Campesino’s complete line of coffee.

We at Café Campesino witness shade-grown production first hand through annual producer visits to our farmer cooperatives. As we rekindle and strengthen our working relationship with these hard-working campesinos, we assess their agronomic methods. While the Smithsonian is working on a promising producer criterion for shade-grown certification, our producers do maintain organic certification. Organic certification criterion continues to remain the backbone for current and future eco-labeling initiatives. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s trademarked Bird Friendly logo is a private label available for purveyors of shade-grown coffee who want to support Smithsonian research. As proponents of sustainable agriculture and trade, we maintain a commitment to providing our consumers with organic and fair trade certified products and continue to support discussions on alternative labeling criteria.

Vote shade by filling your mug with Café Campesino!

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