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Shade Grown Coffee – It’s For the Birds
Traditionally, almost all coffee is shade grown. The coffee plant in its natural state is not very tolerant of direct sunlight; now many coffee plants grow best under the shade of the canopy of trees. In the ideal situation, the leaves from the trees on the body will be eaten and composted into the soil, creating a rich, moist soil in which the coffee plants grow. Furthermore, the trees above provide a home for native birds that eat many of the insects that would endanger the coffee plants. Coffee grown in this type of environment will require little to no fertilizers or pesticides to grow; instead, it will grow well for itself.
In 1972, scientists developed a new hybrid type of coffee plant. This new plant boasts a much larger crop of beans than traditional coffee plants, and in addition, the plant is easier to harvest because the plant is small in size. Recently, coffee farms around the world are switching to the new hybrid plant. Currently, coffee plantations cut down their native forests to provide direct sunlight for hybrid coffee plants. Of the six million acres of coffee-producing land around the world, it is estimated that sixty percent of that land has been deforested since 1972 because of the sun-drenched coffee plants.
Deforestation on coffee plantations has created many problems. First, the migratory birds that live in these trees will no longer have a home. It is estimated that the population of migratory birds has decreased 20% in the past decade, mostly due to loss of habitat. The lack of trees not only interrupts the bird population. It directly affects the entire ecosystem of a region. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that shade coffee plants support a significant number of other species of animals and insects. For example, the study noted that a tree in a shady coffee plantation in Costa Rica is home to 27 different types of ants and 126 different types of beetles. When shade trees disappear, so do other animals and insects, upsetting the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
Another problem with solar-grown coffee is the large amount of synthetic chemicals needed to grow it. Because there are not many native birds available to eat insects, we need pesticides to keep the insects down. Tropical coffee plants are also fertilized with chemical fertilizers, because there is no canopy of trees to provide organic materials that will make the soil naturally rich. In addition, the plants that grow sun coffee must also rely on the use of herbicides to keep the weeds growing in the increased sun (shade coffee plants do not have many problems with weeds, because the weeds are not grows well in the shade.conditions favored by coffee plants).
All of these chemicals needed to grow hybrid sun coffee plants create large amounts of runoff, which is toxic to downstream waterways due to runoff and endangering the health of workers on coffee farms. The lack of trees has also created major soil erosion problems. It has become clear that this type of coffee farming is not sustainable.
The shade of growing culture, however, is a personal and sustainable way of farming. It promotes increased biodiversity and requires little to no fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The Smithsonian Institute’s Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) works to raise awareness and promote shade-grown coffee through a certification process. Look for coffees that display SMBC’s “Bird Friendly” seal of approval, or if you can’t find such cafes, just look for those that specify shade-grown locations.
The only way to deal with this problem is through customer demand. Every purchase of shade grown coffee helps restore the natural shade that grows coffee farming methods. Coffee drinkers and bird lovers unite, and buy only shade-grown coffee!
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