Does shade coffee help or hinder conservation?

November 24, 2003

While shade coffee is promoted as protecting tropical forests and birds, conservationists are split on whether it actually works. The December issue of Conservation Biology has the latest on the debate: one side says shade coffee can give farmers a reason to preserve tropical biodiversity while the other side fears it can actually encourage farmers to clear more forest.

Shade coffee is a traditional farming method of growing coffee bushes under a canopy of diverse trees, which helps protect the many bird species that depend on them.

The case for shade coffee is argued by Stacy Philpott of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Thomas Dietsch of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington DC, who say the keys to making it work are requiring rigorous certification and offering financial incentives. "Without incentives, and faced with economic hardship, farmers may convert their lands to sun coffee, pasture or swidden agriculture, requiring that they cut more forest," they say.

Philpott and Dietsch say that there are currently two rigorous shade certification programs (Bird-friendly Coffee from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and Eco-OK from the Rainforest Alliance) that require a diverse canopy over coffee farms. However, these programs are not widely used by small coffee farmers in part because they can be expensive.

To encourage more farmers to continue growing shade coffee instead of switching to less conservation-friendly types of agriculture, Philpott and Dietsch advocate linking shade certification with fair-trade certification. The latter has the advantages of covering the costs of farm visits, and of helping small farmers make a living by offering price premiums and loans. "Unless shade standards are linked to price premiums for coffee producers...these programs will ultimately fail...when farmers face the choice of clearing forest or starvation," they say.

To make shade certification programs stronger, Philpott and Dietsch also recommend giving coffee farmers financial incentives to maintain biodiversity-rich shade farms and to preserve adjacent forest fragments. Finally, to help keep farmers from converting more forest to shade coffee, they recommend only certifying farms that are 10 or more years old.

The case against shade coffee is argued by John Rappole of the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia; David King of the U.S. Forest Service Northeast Experiment Station at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst; and Jorge Vega Rivera of the Instituto Biologia in San Patricio, Mexico.

While shade certification sounds good in theory, Rappole and his colleagues say that it does not always work in practice. "Currently, promotion far outstrips certification," they say, noting that several retailers claim their coffee is shade-grown and bird-friendly but lack rigorous certification programs. The problem is that simply being grown in the shade is not enough to make coffee bird-friendly. Besides the traditional farms where shade is provided by a diverse canopy, there are also multi-crop coffee farms where shade is provided by cacao and a few other economically valuable trees.

Because shade certification is not necessarily rigorous, offering economic incentives for shade coffee could encourage farmers to clear more forest, say Rappole and his colleagues. They have seen extensive areas of native forest replaced by low-diversity, multi-crop shade coffee farms during their years of fieldwork in Mexico and Central America. "I have worried for a long time that shade coffee promotion could have unintended consequences," says Rappole.
-end-
CONTACT: Stacy Philpott: 734-764-1446, sphilpot@umich.edu
Thomas Dietsch: 202-673-4790, dietscht@nzp.si.edu
John Rappole: 540-635-6537, jrappole@cres.si.edu

WEBSITES:
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/

Global Exchange Fair-Trade Coffee
http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/coffee/index.html

Fair-Trade Certified
https://www.transfairusa.org/
For PDFs of papers, please reply to this message.

For pictures provided by the researchers
http://www.conbio.org/SCB/Services/Tips/2003-12-Dec.cfm

For more information about the Society for Conservation Biology
http://conservationbiology.org/

Society for Conservation Biology

Related Conservation Articles from Brightsurf:

New guide on using drones for conservation
Drones are a powerful tool for conservation - but they should only be used after careful consideration and planning, according to a new report.

Elephant genetics guide conservation
A large-scale study of African elephant genetics in Tanzania reveals the history of elephant populations, how they interact, and what areas may be critical to conserve in order to preserve genetic diversity of the species.

Measuring the true cost of conservation
BU Professor created the first high-resolution map of land value in the United states.

Environmental groups moving beyond conservation
Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become powerful voices in world environmental politics, little is known of the global picture of this sector.

Hunting for the next generation of conservation stewards
Wildlife ecology students become the professionals responsible for managing the biodiversity of natural systems for species conservation.

Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.

New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.

Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.

Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.

Read More: Conservation News and Conservation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.