Ecological Benefits of Shade Grown Coffee

By Robert Rice, with assistance from Mauricio Bedoya
Published: September 2010

The market for organic, shade-grown coffee grown to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly® criteria reached more than $3.5 million in 2008, averaging a 145% annual increase between 2000 and 2008. About 1,400 growers in 8 countries and more than 45 roasters in the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, and Japan carr Bird Friendly® coffee imported by 16 companies.

However, until today, no one report had collected the wide-ranging benefits of shade-grown coffee production. By reviewing more than 50 studies on shade-grown coffee farms in regions ranging from Central and South America to Indonesia over the past 15 years, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) can now make the case that shade-grown coffee production is the next best thing to a natural forest, and put to rest any arguments about the sustainability of a sun-coffee system.

In study after study, habitat on shade-grown coffee farms outshone sun-grown coffee farms with increased numbers and species of birds as well as and improved bird habitat, soil protection/erosion control, carbon sequestration, natural pest control and improved pollination. While sun-grown systems can have higher yields, the shaded farms easily outperform them in sustainability measurements with the trees providing an array of ecological services that offer both direct and indirect “income/payback” to farmers and the environment.

The “hidden yield” in the shade vs. sun comparison is that of the non-coffee products and opportunities coming from the shaded system. In addition to ecotourism on several shade coffee farms, firewood, fruits, building materials and medicinal plants are all resources harvested to varying degrees by shade coffee farmers and used and/or sold by farmers.

Excitingly, some of the studies in Mexico and Costa Rica were supported with funds from royalties remitted to SMBC by roasters involved in the BF program.. Over the past decade, SMBC has given more than $100,000 to researchers looking into the benefits of shade coffee production and other questions related to migratory birds.

Over 95 percent of BF coffee comes from coffee farms in Central and South America with the remainder coming from Africa. The producers manage more than 12,000 acres (5,000 hectares) of BF area and coffee farms in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela, producing more than 6 million pounds of BF coffee in the 2007-2008 harvest year. Peru ranks first in Bird Friendly coffee production (39 percent), and together, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico account for 77 percent of all production.

Read the rest of the story here: