Drink Up! Conservation Coffee Arrives from Papua New Guinea

Editor's note: Since Conservation International began collaborating with Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, our partnership has led to major conservation victories in Papua New Guinea. Today’s guest blog from Dr. Lisa Dabek, the director of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, spotlights the program’s latest project: sustainably grown coffee that protects species habitat while providing income for rural communities.

Coffee-crazed Seattleites are about to taste something new: the first-ever coffee made available in the U.S. from a remote part of Papua New Guinea — the Yopno Uruwa Som region of the Huon Peninsula.

The region is home to the endangered Matschie’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei), the little-known animal that inspired this whole effort. Native to the Huon Peninsula, the tree kangaroo is one of Earth’s more unique creatures with a bear-like head, bushy tail and marsupial’s pouch.

So how did we get from ‘roo to brew? To protect an endangered species like the tree kangaroo, you first need to protect its habitat.

After several years of collaboration between Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and CI, in 2009 Papua New Guinea villagers in the remote Huon Peninsula formally agreed to protect 73,000 hectares (180,000 acres) of their land, establishing the nation’s first conservation area.

This month, the zoo has completed a $1 million fundraising effort, which will be matched in full by a generous grant from CI’s Global Conservation Fund, creating a $2 million YUS Conservation Endowment to ensure sustainable funding to manage the protected area in the future.

But to make sure that land stays protected not just in name but in action, we had to make it possible for these villagers to find an ecofriendly, alternative income source that would give them the money they need while protecting their land from destructive activities like logging and mining.

In comes the coffee.

The villagers in this area have long farmed coffee, but their nearly impossible-to-reach location made it unlikely that their product would ever reliably be made available to any market. The Huon Peninsula is characterized by some of the most extreme, rugged landscape in the world; the villages of the YUS Conservation Area are remote and accessible only by small plane service. In the past, the high cost of small plane travel and freight has made the profit margin for YUS coffee growers prohibitive.

Seattle’s Caffe Vita helped us cross that hurdle by using their coffee importing and marketing expertise to bring the beans here and roast them at their facilities, marking the first-ever coffee from the YUS region made commercially available in the U.S. — purchased directly from the growers at a fair price.

Now you can get your hands on limited edition, 12-ounce bags of “Papua New Guinea Yopno Uruwa Som” Farm Direct coffee — grown in the shade and without the use of pesticides — available now in the Seattle area and online. Made up of the best in beans from 54 Papua New Guinea farmers, the coffee is mellow and honey-like, with flavors of toasted hazelnut, orange zest and guava, finishing with cocoa and sugarcane.

When you drink this coffee, you are not only helping conservation, but you’re also directly improving the lives of these farmers and their families, who for the first time are earning a fair price for coffee — money they need to put their children through school and provide for their family’s healthcare.

Try a cup — and if you like it, tell a friend. The more beans we can spread around, the bigger a difference we can make for the people and wildlife of Papua New Guinea. Thanks for your support!

Dr. Lisa Dabek is the director of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and a senior conservation scientist at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.