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!
Tags: agribusiness, biotech intervention, Colombia, deforestation, eco-labeling, genetic-modified coffee, hybrid coffee, Mexico, organic certification, pesticide, shade-grown, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Sustainability
Wondering who is working to spread the good word about shade-grown coffee on the local level? One fine example can be found in Georgia. Since 1996, the Atlanta Audubon Shade-Grown Coffee Campaign (AASCC) has been increasing public awareness of the connection between neotropical migratory birds and traditional coffee farms. Managed and run by volunteers, the campaign aims to educate consumers about the positive role that shade-grown coffee and fair trade coffee play in conserving songbird habitat in the Latin American coffee-producing countries.
While organizations devoted primarily to preserving endangered fauna around the world do not often focus their efforts on issues of fair trade, this particular venture is a natural fit for the Atlanta chapter of the Audubon Society. Their mission includes protecting rare birds, and encouraging the public to take action on behalf of birds and other species. Promoting shade-grown coffee is a significant action. The movement over the past 30 years to convert traditional coffee growing areas (where the coffee plants grow easily beneath a rainforest canopy) into sun-grown plantations (acreage committed solely to productive yet short-lived low-growing coffee plants highly dependent on pesticides) has destroyed 40% of the 6.9 million acres of rainforest on coffee-producing lands in Latin America. This rainforest habitat provides winter shelter to more than 180 species of migratory birds that return to the US each spring.
Members of the AASCC volunteer committee coordinate several large-scale public events each year in the Atlanta area, as well as on-going presentations to civic groups, churches and other smaller gatherings. Another popular means they use to educate and inform is their “Drink Shade-Grown Coffee for the Birds” t-shirt, designed by artist Richard Parks and sold at local events and on their website (just $12, and the text on the shirt is available in Spanish or English).
An exciting new development for Atlanta Audubon’s Shade Grown Coffee Campaign is their recent contact with the Northwest Shade Coffee Campaign, exploring the establishment of a nationwide coalition to educate a wider audience about the benefits of shade-grown coffee. NSCC’s Spring 2001 campaign came to a rousing close last June with a major concert in Seattle sponsored by NSCC, the Songbird Foundation, and Transfair USA. The media attention from events like this can only help the shade-grown cause. And collaborations between organizations like Atlanta Audubon and the NSCC are one of the best ways to both turn up the buzz and transform it into consumer action.
Nate Wayman is a caffeine addict who is currently studying non-profit management in southern Vermont. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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