Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Shade-Grown Coffee Plantations in Northern Latin America: A Refuge for More Than Just Birds & Biodiversity

Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Shade-Grown Coffee Plantations in Northern Latin America: A Refuge for More Than Just Birds & Biodiversity

Article excerpt



Historically, coffee in Northern Latin America (1) was planted in the shade beneath the canopy of native trees. Besides providing richer coffee and requiring little chemical fertilizers and pesticides, canopy trees also provide farmers with additional sources of food and income, and provide habitat for migratory songbirds and other species. More recently, a trend towards growing coffee under the full sun that began in the mid-1970s, driven in part by U.S. foreign assistance, has destroyed large tracts of coffee forests and their associated biodiversity. (2) This modernization of the coffee industry has allowed increasingly large volumes of coffee to be grown at faster rates. However, modernization has also resulted in reductions of vegetative cover and species diversity of plant communities and their associated faunas, and adverse environmental impacts from the application of agrochemicals (3) on lands previously unspoiled by such applications. (4)

Coffee consumers seeking to protect the flora, fauna, and small coffee growers that depend upon the traditional shade coffee plantation have been switching to certified coffee. The gourmet, or specialty, coffee industry has been subject to these social and environmental themes which were unimaginable a decade ago. As a result, organic, fair trade, bird-friendly, shade-grown, and the catchall sustainable coffees are now featured at coffee bars. (5) Buying sustainable coffee has become a way for consumers to assist in conserving biodiversity and create an income for peasant farmers (6)

However, coffee consumers presently face the problem of too many different certification programs. (7) The International Coffee Organization (ICO) should take a leadership role in the certified coffee market that will result in legitimate conservation of traditional shade-grown coffee farms. Such efforts by the ICO must be supported by non-governmental environmental organizations (NGOs) that must work in concert with the ICO for a common cause. Coffee companies must also support these initiatives by agreeing to purchase sufficient amounts of certified coffee to ensure that growing such coffee is economically profitable.

In addition to the ICO, NGOs, coffee companies, and their consumers, the governments of the coffee growing nations of Northern Latin America must take action to conserve shade-grown coffee farms. The Biological Diversity Convention called for its member states to "endeavor to provide conditions needed for compatibility between present uses and the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components." (8) Sound national policies that protect and conserve shade coffee farms will not only benefit small farmers, the biodiversity that their plantations harbor, and the programs that certify their coffee as sustainable, but also will serve as a means for nations to achieve their in situ conservation duties under the Biological Diversity Convention, (9) as well as the principles of Agenda 21. (10)



Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi, who noticed that his goats were dancing and bleating excitedly after eating the red berries from a tree that he had never seen before. (11) Upon sampling the berries himself, Kaldi felt as if he were full of energy and was soon frolicking with his goats. (12) Whether this legend is true or not, coffee quickly spread to other countries from its original range in Ethiopia, and by about A.D. 1000 its popularity had soon spread throughout Arabia. (13)

Venetian merchants brought coffee from Constantinople to Italy in 1615, and by 1750 it could be found through most of Western Europe. (14) By the eighteenth century, coffee had also been introduced into the fertile growing areas of the New World tropics. (15) Under colonial rule, coffee cultivation increased dramatically throughout the tropics over the following centuries. …

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