If you’re a coffee lover, you have thousands of varieties to choose from. But one choice in particular – opting for shade-grown – can help save the planet.
Here's a little-known fact: Coffee plants originally evolved to thrive beneath the lush canopy of tropical forests, not in sun-exposed fields.
Small-scale coffee growers have long benefited from shaded farms. When sown in the shade of healthy forests, coffee plants require relatively little care and can coexist with fruit trees and other shade-tolerant crop-yielding plants – potentially a diversified income source for farmers.
For coffee connoisseurs, the taste of shade-grown coffee often better reflects the delicate nuances of the region where it is grown, in much the same way prized wines exhibit the unique characteristics of their vineyards.
READ MORE: Today coffee is grown in 16 of the world's 34 biodiversity hotspots.
But what we love most about shade-grown coffee is that it's the product of healthy, intact forests that are crucial in our fight to stabilize climate change and home to important plant and animal species.
Despite this, more than 40 percent of the shaded coffee fields in Mexico and Central America have been converted into sun-exposed plantations, their once-nurturing forest canopies destroyed in the process. In the 1960s, scientists began tweaking coffee plants so they could withstand sunlight and produce more beans. Thus relief agencies, hoping to raise the income of farmers, encouraged the switch from shade-grown to sun-tolerant varieties. Governments soon also joined the push.
But plantation-style coffee growing has produced consequences that few anticipated. Open fields of coffee plants sap nutrients from the soil, increase erosion and are dependent on chemical fertilizers. In a fast-developing world that consumes 2.5 billion cups of coffee daily, these practices pose a grave danger to the world’s tropical forests and to our global climate.
The wholesale burning and clearing of forests today produces roughly 16 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change – that's more than the amount created by all the planet’s cars, trucks, SUVs, and trains.
By contrast, healthy forests extract carbon from the atmosphere, effectively using it as the basic material of their limbs and leaves. This fundamental natural process helps moderate climate change by balancing out carbon emissions. Healthy forests also combat erosion, help provide safe drinking water – which more than 1 in 6 human beings lack – and preserve untold plant species that local communities rely on for food, medicine, and shelter.
Fortunately, these facts are not lost on conservationists and some pioneering members of the multi-billion-dollar coffee industry. Understanding the benefits of preserving forests and the important role shade-grown coffee farms play in doing just that, Starbucks Corp. has worked with CI since 1998 to halt and eventually reverse years of unsound coffee-growing practices. The fruits of that relationship continue to be positive. Together with Starbucks, we've given farmers incentives to adopt sustainable growing practices and dependable, fair prices for their products.
NEWS: Starbucks is announcing the next phase of its 10-year partnership with CI.
Call it enlightened self interest or maybe even a partnership made in heaven. It’s certainly a partnership that grows stronger each time consumers opt to fill their cups with coffee that's grown in the shade.