The Ecological Effects of Coffee Farming

shallow focus photo of green fruit

The Benefits of Green Coffee Growing Practices

Coffee, like chocolate, is one of the world’s favorite commodities and has a number of health benefits; the increasing demand for coffee over the years has resulted in different coffee growing practices in order to meet the supply and demand quotas for coffee. However, the different methods of coffee farming impact the environment in different ways, depending on how coffee is grown and where coffee is grown.

Where Coffee is Grown

There are different species of plants, within the Coffea genus, which produce coffee. Coffee is a tropical plant and needs the right balance of environmental factors to be successfully grown; the right balance of sunlight, rain, wind, soil quality and temperature are required to successfully farm coffee.

Coffee farming needs between 1500 to 3000 mm of rain per year and does not respond well to frost. The ideal temperature for coffee plants depends on the plant species; for example, coffea robusta can tolerate hotter temperatures than coffea arabica. Altitude also effects the success of coffee farming.

Different Coffee Farming Methods

Traditional coffee farming was “shade grown”, meaning the plants were grown under the shades of trees. However, this method was slow, as the berries took longer to ripen. In the past few decades, many coffee farmers have switched to the “sun cultivation” method which allows the berries to ripen a lot faster and increases production yields.

Ecological Effects of Shade Grown Coffee

Shade grown coffee has many ecological benefits and is more “green” (environmentally friendly); benefits of shade grown coffee include:

  • provides wildlife cover, especially for birds
  • provides food for wildlife
  • offers greater soil stability
  • use of less synthetic fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides
  • protects coffee plants from extreme weather conditions
  • a cool, damp micro climate is generated beneath the shade canopy, ideal for coffee plants
  • lower evaporation rates, and therefore greater water availability for coffee plants.

Ecological Effects of Sun Cultivated Coffee

Coffee which is grown through the sun cultivation method produces the following ecological effects:

  • deforestation
  • destruction of wildlife habitat
  • decreased soil quality and increased erosion
  • greater pollution of pesticides
  • workers are exposed to greater chemical pollutants
  • increased pollution
  • decreased life of coffee plants; sun cultivated coffee plants do not live as long as those used in traditional coffee farming methods.

The Promotion of Green Coffee Farming Practices

A report in Science Daily indicates that green, or traditional, coffee farming methods will protect against the predicted climate changes in the coming years. Many, but not all, Latin American countries practice traditional coffee growing methods in preference to the more modern sun cultivation coffee growing methods. Some coffee farms carry out both coffee growing practices; however, unless coffee is marked as “organic” or “shade grown”, it is most likely produced through sun cultivation, the predominant coffee growing method in today’s world.

References:

  • Science Daily web site, Green Coffee Growing Practices Buffer Climate-Change Impacts, 
  • International Coffee Organization, 22 Berners Street, London, England,
  • Coffea arabica,
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park web site, The Grind Over Sun Coffee, David Salvesen,

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