Added: 15th June 2015
The tropical coffee bean grows amid lush vegetation, in moist well-fertilised soil, and shaded by taller trees. This original rainforest habitat, which provides home to a myriad of species of plants and animals, is under threat in many parts of the world. Coffee plantations are proving to be a shelter to this often endangered wildlife.
In El Salvador in Central America, the originally richly forested mountain slopes have suffered serious environmental consequences as a result of the long civil war decades ago and the more recent earthquake in 2001. The Rainforest Alliance, an NGO that works to support rainforest ecosystems and populations around the globe, believe that less than 5% of the country’s original forests remain intact. Much of the originally forested areas have now been stripped and burned and converted to cattle farming, or used for farming cash crops like sugar cane and maize.
However, the coffee plantations growing at high altitude require trees to shade them, so farmers such as those at the Las Lajas cooperative have been conserving and cultivating up to 120 species of trees. These in turn can provide a welcome haven for the rich variety of El Salvador’s wildlife including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, not to mention rare plant species. The trees also provide a source of firewood for local people. in some areas, coffee plantations established between separated areas of natural forest have provided an unexpected benefit for the ecosystem by forming a natural ‘bridge’ between them. This allows the wildlife populations in each to mingle, enhancing the gene pool and allowing natural diversity to thrive.
Some coffee farmers are also turning to ways of eco friendly coffee growing, such as creating organic compost from the unwanted husks of the coffee bean. Achieving organic certification can add as much as 10% to the value of the beans which currently stands at $1 a pound. This ‘green’ coffee also has a more stable market, providing security to the coffee farmers when global prices fluctuate. The strict rules and monitoring required to receive organic certification also ensure that the farm owners are kept well informed about environmental issues and that the coffee plantation workers receive good working conditions.
So, wouldn’t you like your coffee green? It’s good to know that while you’re enjoying a cup, you are contributing a little to the survival of the rich diversity of the world’s ecosystems.