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CHOOSING
SHADE GROWN COFFEE
CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Most of us don't know where our coffee comes from or how it's grown. This article attempts to identify the differences between shade grown and sun grown coffee.

Coffee is a shade loving shrub which has been traditionally planted under a shade canopy of the forest. The farmers grow their coffee next to their fruits and vegetables which they sell in local markets. The diverse plant life of a neo-tropical forest shades the coffee from the hot sun and provides a lot of other benefits as well.

The Central American forests are home to thousands of migratory birds. Hummingbirds, swallows, orioles, tanagers and warblers to name a few, make their winter homes in shade coffee farms and plantations. These helpful birds eat the insects that harm the coffee plants thereby reducing or eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.

The many species of trees and plants which make up a forest also provide the nutrients the coffee plants need as they decompose on the forest floor. Toxic agro-chemicals are not needed on a shade coffee farm because of the diverse plant life.

The forest also serves to protect the coffee farms from erosion as the tree roots help to hold the soil in place during heavy rains. The plant life that ends up on the forest floor provides natural mulch for the coffee plants.

Sun coffee or as some call it, "technified coffee" does yield more coffee and so is attractive to countries which are economically strapped. The process of switching to sun coffee from shade coffee involves the clear cutting of the forests. By reducing the bio-diversity of the coffee farms, birds and indigenous animals lose their habitats, but we all lose.

Many discoveries of medicinal compounds have been made in the rain forests of the world. As the animals, birds, and insects lose their habitats, they become extinct. It is happening at an alarming rate.

Sun coffee plantations do produce higher yields but at what cost?The hot sun makes the coffee more susceptible to disease which requires the heavy use of applied chemicals.

Recent studies have shown that there are approximately 95% fewer bird species in a sun coffee plantation than in a shade coffee farm. As discussed above, the birds that live on a shade coffee plantation reduce the insect population that can harm the coffee plants. The sun coffee plantation must use large amounts of pesticides to control the harmful insects.

Erosion is another problem that sun coffee farms face but in addition, as the heavy rains take away the soil from around the coffee plants, it takes with it the chemicals that were used to grow the coffee. All of this is washed away, polluting the lakes and rivers of the region.

There have been several case studies showing how the chemicals used on sun coffee plants have made the pickers sick and in at least one case a worker died because of exposure to the chemicals. Several agro-chemicals have been recalled and banned because of their danger to humans and animals.

Finally, by clear cutting a forest to grow coffee you do away with the timber which can be used as fuel. The fruits and vegetables which grow along side the shade coffee plants and sold in markets provide a safety net for farmers in case the coffee crop fails or coffee prices bottom out.

By purchasing shade grown coffee, you are helping to insure the preservation of the earth's resources and the social and economic well-being of the coffee producers who are trying to grow their coffee in a responsible and sustainable way.


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