Another reason why shade-grown coffee is best

Posted by Laura Grant on October 22, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle

Next time you buy a cup of coffee or coffe beans check if it’s shade grown. Coffee grown in this way is not only more environmentally friendly, it could also have long-term benefits for the millions of people in developing countries who rely on coffee for their livelihoods, say researchers.

Traditionally, coffee farmers in Latin America grew their plants under the shade of a diverse canopy of beans. But, in an effort to increase production, many have apparently abandoned these old methods in favour of “sun coffee”, which involves thinning or removing the canopy and using high-yield strains that grow best in direct sunlight.

Shade-grown farms boost biodiversity by providing a haven for birds and other animals and they require less synthetic fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides than sun-coffee plantations, say researchers from the University of Michigan. They also say that the canopy shields coffee plants during extreme weather events, such as droughts and severe storms, that are expected to become more frequent because of climate change.

“Shaded coffee is ideal because it will buffer the system from climate change while protecting biodiversity,” said Ivette Perfecto of the university’s school of natural resources and environment, who has studied biodiversity in Latin American coffee plantations for 20 years.

Shade trees help dampen the effects of drought and heat waves by maintaining a cool, moist microclimate beneath the canopy. They also act as windbreaks during storms and help reduce runoff and erosion, the researchers say.

“These two trends – increasing agricultural intensification and the trend towards more frequent extreme-weather events – will work in concert to increase farmer vulnerability,” said Brenda Lin, the lead author of the study, which was published in the October edition of the journal BioScience.

“We should take advantage of the services the ecosystems naturally provide, and use them to protect farmers’ livelihoods.”

Source: Science Daily

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