Imagine a lush plot of rainforest, filled with a vast and diverse community of fauna and flora, but contraire to popular believe, this is actually a productive shade grown organic coffee farm. Usually when one thinks of agriculture, thoughts of fertilizers and pesticides slip through our mind, and unfortunately these thoughts are correct, new age coffee farming embraces all the things sustainability doesn’t simply put. Truth is, conserving our rainforests and biodiversity of our planet is only a sip away with shade grown coffee. With the current state of deforestation and monoculture operations, the sustainability of these systems isn’t present, that’s why shade grown coffee is a viable alternative which can reduce the harmful effects of sun grown coffee. The coffee plant, naturally being an understory plant which requires shade offered by trees to protect its leaves from browning and burning. Over time through selectively breeding the coffee bush, farmers were able to develop a coffee strain which can be grown in full sun which allowed a more profitable and larger harvest. This growing technique though profitable to industry, does not include the many external costs produced such as deforestation and loss of biodiversity of song birds. By practicing sustainable agroforestry such as shade grown coffee, the benefits far outweigh the cons derived from costs and smaller yield (Donald, P). With a multiple-phased approach through converting current coffee monoculture lands to shade grown coffee and by encouraging new farming plantations to be established in the rainforest responsibly, we can mitigate the many harmful effects of sun grown coffee and ensure the health of one of earths most precious and productive biomes.
Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world, producing approximately 2,609,040 tons of coffee annually and concededly also suffers as the highest land area deforested per year compared to any other country (Rise, R). With approximately 100 million daily coffee drinkers in America, only 1% of their coffee comes from shade grown plantations (Live Science). According to [Conservation Org] every cup of sun grown coffee contributes to approximately 3 cubic centimeters of forest deforestation which though may not seem like much, accumulatively aides in deforesting 310 cubic meters per day. The errors of sun grown coffee are vast, ranging from ecological damage to degradation of soils and insect communities.
To further understand the dilemma at hand, we must evaluate the different methods of production of the coffee bean. Shade grown coffee is the coffee plant in its natural form (without genetic modification) and is how the plant was historically cultivated for thousands of years. Coffee horticulture is practiced by growing the bush like plant along tall trees that offer shade. These trees consist of a variety of legumes or nitrogen fixing trees which benefit the soil by converting atmospheric nitrogen to a terrestrial usable form that the coffee plant can access (Earth Easy). Additionally, the trees produce leaf litter that protects the soil from compaction, increases water retention, and reduces surface runoff during storm events. [Texas Forest]
The benefit of a variety of shade trees is shade grown coffees largest attribute to a sustainable system. This weighs in most heavily with regards to soil structure and fertility. With the dense canopy accustomed to shade grown coffee (>40% canopy cover), soil erosion is very limited and models that of a natural system [Chapter 3 Field Maintenance]. In an eight year study in Colombia [Shade Grown], the shade grown coffee variety lost 0.24 metric tons of soil per hectare per year. In reference, a hay field lost 23 metric tons and corn field lost 860 metric tons where as a natural forests erosion rates range between 0.03 and 0.3 metric tons per hectare per year which shows that shade coffee is similar to natural systems (Donald, P). Additionally, the trees ensure that the soil structure has ample carbon loads which sustain plant growth (Shade Grown Coffee]. On typical shade grown systems, the area can be farmed of upwards of 30 years before soil depletion starts to occur, which is nearly double the 10-15 years a sun grown plant can sustain before damaged soil decreases substantial yields [Shade Grown Coffee]. In a study by (Nitrogen Fixing Trees), the carbon content of shaded coffee was 18% higher than that found in sun grown coffee.Though the environmental advantages of shade grown coffee are numerous, its important to note that these systems enable farmers to make harvests in other aspects of their land. Historically these shade grown areas consist of many mast and fruit trees which support wildlifes nutritional needs, but also ensure the farmer a second supplemental income. Additionally, many medicinal plants propagate in these sites which not only ensures medical advances for years to come, but are actually profitable to farmers in local markets as well. Sun grown coffee, though financially productive doesnt equate profit once external costs are factored in. Since sun grown coffee plantations can only productively exist 10-15 years, after this rotation the farmers often have to seek out new land (rainforest) and slash and burn the site to enable sun coffee growth (Chapter 3 of?). The previous plantation location is disregarded as a brown site and little to no biologic nor can agriculture production sustain on site. This mostly occurs due to soil depletion from monoculture, and since in the sun grown site there is little to no canopy cover, precipitation heavily erodes the soil and washes away vital nutrients required for productive crop growth (Griffin, R). To make issues worse, since typical plots of land used for sun grown coffee historically have nutrient poor soil with a low cation exchange capacity, requiring the need for constant fertilization and usage of pesticides to ensure adequate yield. In fact, the sun grown coffee plant is among the top 3 crops which receive the heaviest amounts of pesticides to mitigate the insect community which is now seeking new refuge after the plantations clear cut approach (Hilton, H).. As mentioned earlier, tropical soil doesn’t have the ability to hold on to nutrients for long periods of time, which mean cyclic fertilizer régimes must be implemented to ensure good harvest yield. This not only brings environmental implications with it, but also financial ones, as synthetic fertilizers can be costly for many poverty stricken farmers. The majority of long term shade grown coffee sites are not established for biodiversity or eco-health. Small farmers simply can’t convert to full sun coffee because the new age agriculture technologies cost too much . This means sun grown isn’t only bad for the environment, but also places a larger tax on the farmer to meet the fertilizing, pesticide, fungicide applications.
The biodiversity of our planet has proved a huge concern for many for good reasons. Shade grown coffee ensures that a healthy variety of biodiversity is intact in the living landscape. With the wide spread species of legumes and other trees occupying shade grown sites, it serves as ample habitat for many song birds. This abundance of biodiversity isn’t just for the birds though, as increased populations of insects, orchids, amphibians and reptiles have all been recorded at substantially higher numbers than its rival sun grown coffee. In a recent study of coffee plantations in Guatemala, it was observed that the overall bird abundance and diversity was 30% and 15% greater in shaded coffee communities that that of sun grown (Hilton, H). In collective research, it’s been proven study to study that the biodiversity is substantially higher in shaded coffee plantations and the biodiversity counts (upwards of 150 species of songbirds) have been seen on site, which is a more dense population than that of song birds residing in the forested land (rainforest). Since the heavy exploitation of Brazil in respect to sun grown coffee in the 1990, there have been an approximate reduction of 20% of specie abundance since much of their usable landscape has been taken away in the form of deforestation (Shade Grown Coffee). With populations of species being reduced across the board, this deforestation is accounted for the majority of these figures.
If shade grown coffee hasn’t already sold itself, then perhaps look at the many economic advantages of shade grown coffee. Though shade grown coffee is priced at a premium compared to sun grown variant, the relative difference in cost is not substantial even without the addition of external costs. On average, bird friendly coffee is priced within 20% of the sun grown coffee price point, yet it ensures that the natural benefits of the ecosystem are preserved (which are not included in pricing). Things such as the landscapes natural ability to slow storm surge, the ability to sequester carbon and of course the wide biodiversity that we see in these systems are all ignored in the market price. When one includes the external costs of producing sun grown coffee, the tax created by fertilizers, soil deprivation, and the loss of natural prophecies these systems provide such as climate mitigation, it is clear to see that the price of shade grown coffee easily is more economic than full sun monoculture operations.
Brazil is on the verge of being a newly developed country, with a fast paced legislature and even faster flowing free market. Although it slowed down in the last three years, it is one of few markets to successfully recover and grow during the recession around 2008 and 2009, reaching a GDP growth rate of 7.5% in 2010, though today it is closer to 1% increase (CIA, 2013). Brazil is the 6th largest import of agriculture to the United States, contributing upwards of $1.3 billion in coffee out of the $3.4 billion in crops (Office of the United States Trade Representative, 2011). Despite this economic power, Brazil is suffering slow decline in coffee sales. Over the last 150 years, Brazil has been the largest global exporter of coffee continuously but the coffee industry in brazil has begun to slow. In 2009 there was a “Coffee Crisis” which led to farmer riots and avocation of government intervention to alleviate the farmers who could not afford to sell for the market’s low prices (Lewes, 2013). This makes Brazil place for a change in the coffee industry. Economically, Brazil is very elastic and has the ability to support farmers. It is also young, with a government able to make fast useful measures to help it’s citizen’s to succeed. Finally, it needs to enter other parts of the coffee industry to retain and increase its power within the global industry.
Brazil has a strong set of programs meant to protect small farmers through the country’s national company: Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento (CONAB, 2013). This company buys coffee from farmers by region through the Policy Minimum Price Guarantee (PGPM)(CONAB, 2013). Basically the program sets a minimum price for crops which protects small farmers from fluctuations in the global market (CONAB, 2013). Other programs through the Ministério da Agricultura (MAPA) in conjunction with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) give lines of credit and subsidies to family farms and coffee farms (Ministério da Agricultura, 2013). Finally the National Environment System (SISNAMA) in conjunction with the National Institute of Agricultural Reform (INCRA) allows for licensing and use of rainforest when projects are presented as sustainable, working to protect and increase tropical diversity (INCRA, 2012).
Brazilian farmers can also apply for subsidies through non-governmental organizations which are constantly conducting research and encouraging environmental friendly agriculture especially as it concerns the use of the forest. In areas like Southern brazil in Minas Gerais, there is a high variety of small farmers are trying their hand at shade grown coffee (Agroecology.org). They are supported in part by University researches, like those at the University of Viscosa, studying agro-ecology (Agroecology.org). Large institutes also help to a lesser extent such as the Rainforest Alliance and Conservational International (Lyon, 2006). One incredible example of this is Starbucks 2015 Goal for 100% ethically resourced coffee through C.A.F.E Practices and certification (Starbucks Coffee Company, 2013, Responsibility). Although this is strictly for Starbucks Coffee and encompasses much more than simply shade growing coffee, it is program that teaches small farmers how to follow organic and shade grown practices and is supported in partnership with Conservation International (CI, 2013).
Certification of shade grown tends to be the hardest part of the business. Most small time farmers who try shade grown coffee are working for larger roasting companies, as is true for companies like Kicking Horse, Barefoot Coffee, and Bob-o-link (Kicking Horse Coffee)(Barefoot Coffee Roasters)(Felipe, 2013). In these instances, there is a chance that the coffee is tested and followed by a regulation of “shade grown” but doesn’t hold by the more expensive certification standards of places like the Rainforest Alliance or the Smithsonian Institute and their Bird Friendly certification (Lyon, 2006). Instead of fighting for the scientific certification, which may be looking specifically at how well the biodiversity is in the shade grown system, these companies fight hard enough for the label “shade grown” on top of already established certifications like Fair Trade and Organic (Hilten, 2010).
Niche markets are becoming a common occurrence in today’s global coffee trade. According to the International Coffee Organization, 8% of today’s coffee is certified in one of any organic, fair trade or company specific certification (Giovannucci, 2010). Even as the production of coffee increases and the global price decrease, specialty and certified coffees maintain a premium price that protects and encourages niche market growth (Lyon, 2006). Shade grown coffee also maintains a place within this market, driven by Mexican and African products that have already been introduced. Most of the time, shade grown is an entity when it is part of organic and fair trade certification, since multi-certified coffees look better to consumers, but there is a potential for shade grown to expand on its own (Lyon, 2006). For some large companies such as Folgers, the inconsistency and small percentage of the product made, makes it too small a profit for too much of a risk (Commission for Environmental Cooperation, 2000). According to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (2000), the potential of shade grown in today’s market can grow to 5% simply through encouragement by government institutions and an educational introduction into the global market. This is where the International Coffee Organization comes in. It is a consortium of all major coffee export and importers in the world and releases statistics and educational documents on the current trends in the global coffee market biannually. It also hosts several global meetings to discuss the market and how to expand and protect it financially. A simple educational guide on how to successfully sell Shade Grown coffee would be a major step towards informing roasters, suppliers, and producers how to reach the potential consumer base.
Shade grown is a farming method, a process that does not need to include the roaster. This is different from organic or fair trade, which can only gain certification when standards are met by all selling parties. In today’s market it acts as a nice secondary label after organic which roaster companies like to use in their marketing, but what farmers fail to receive is the extra credit that comes from that method of farming. The chance for the market to expand can be influenced by education and advertisement, but in Brazil it must be funded and encourage through government intervention as well. There are three institutions that simultaneously work toward variations of the same sustainable small farmer ideal in Brazil. This is where the encouragement and propagation of shade grown coffee in Brazil will start. It will be a government funded national certification for shade grown coffee, extended to farmers who receive environmental licenses to farm in forested areas or are planting native species to rejuvenate areas that were deforested in the past. SISNAMA in conjunction with INCRA can form regional certification offices in already established licensing facilities, with funding coming through MAPA for small farming practices that embody the national strive for environmentally friendly and sustainable farming.
With the help of the already established Ministério da Agricultura programs, farmers have the ability to easily start this method, and will find savings in the pesticide and fertilizers that are no longer needed or only needed in reduced amounts. For farmers who work with non-governmental organizations or companies, this certification is independent of the processing market and can be pitched to interested companies through the viability of Shade-grown as a specialty product. The important part though, is that with a national certification verified through INCRA, the value of the coffee beans will increase in the market and small farmers will gain an advantage over other conventional farming methods. Moreover, the certification will be oriented towards Brazil and it’s environmental needs and priorities which will optimize the positive effects of this farming method.
Finally, in conjunction with this increase in price, there will be an increase in the CONAB minimum premium. Depending on the product supply increase, this will give Brazil (through CONAB) a stronger global presence in coffee exportation, which accompanies the adaption to specialty products in the market. This will return some of the diminishing power that Brazil once exercised.
Shade grown coffee is an important environmental product. It fits the bill in countries like Brazil, which support important rainforest ecosystems and a citizenry whose population includes a larger portion of small farmers. Along rainforest properties and in areas that used to be forested, the shade grown method is an economically viable alternative to conventional farming. Moreover, with the current political organization, the ability to support shade grown coffee farmers is very accessible. All that stands in the way is the expansion of the market both in the increase in product quantity and it’s face time in the global market. Through proper advertising and education of companies as well as the support of producers in Brazil, this is possible.
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(combination of both of our references are above) References
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