Coffee & Parrot Conservation
If you drink coffee, love parrots and want to prevent their natural habits from being destroyed the type of coffee you buy can make all the difference between the extinction of a species or its survival. How can the type of coffee people drink be so important? Have you ever heard of shade grown coffee?
With the severe loss of biodiversity on this planet being the greatest threat to the survival of humanity, and all other species, the manner in which farmers grow coffee either nurtures and enriches the biodiversity of an ecosystem, or destroys it.
What is Shade Grown Coffee?
Unlike the USDA Certified Organic Seal, or other International Organic Certifications that identify a known standard, there are presently no agreed upon criteria for identifying and certifying the agricultural practices for enhancing biodiversity in shade grown coffee farms and plantations. Shade grown coffee employes specific agriculture practices that support the ecological biodiversity of an area. Shade grown coffee provides foraging and nesting areas for numerous wild parrot species. However, there are three important qualifications to look for when selecting coffee that helps rather than harms the environment. Your coffee must be Triple Certified – Organic, Fair Trade and shade grown, Bird Friendly®.
Identifying Organic Coffee
Be skeptical of coffee that advertises they are organic unless a Seal of Organic Certification is actually printed on the package. Some websites include a small image of an organic seal without their company or their product actually being a United States Department of Agriculture, International Organic Accreditation Service (1) or otherwise Certified Organic Product.(2)
Identifying Fair Trade Coffee
Fair Trade is an organized global market-based and social movement founded in building equitable and sustainable partnerships between farmers and artisans in third world countries and businesses in developed nations. Fair Trade actively promotes and ensures equitable compensation for their products, safe and healthy working conditions, transparent business practices, and workplaces free from discrimination and forced child labor. With shade grown coffee representing one of the most labor-intensive crops grown on earth today purchasing Certified Fair Trade coffee helps alleviate poverty and creates opportunities for people to help themselves. Fair Trade Certified products bear the seal of their certifier.
Identifying Bird Friendly® Coffee
The phrase ‘Bird Friendly’® is a registered trademark of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC). This means that only companies who have met the standards of the SMBC can have their coffee certified as Bird Friendly®. These businesses can display the SMBC seal of approval and can use the words ‘Bird Friendly’® on their packaging and in their advertising. In locating true shade grown Bird Friendly® coffee it is vital to look for the SMBC seal of approval and to see if their registered trademark Bird Friendly® is being used properly.
Be aware that there are many coffee roasters, distributors and retailers who imply that their shade grown coffee meets the strict shade grown coffee standards of the SMBC – thereby promoting species biodiversity – when in fact it does not.
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Certification
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has created the only true ‘shade-grown’ coffee certification. Products bearing their seal are called Bird-Friendly ® coffee. Their criteria, developed by ecologists at the center, include having a canopy of at least 12 meters (just under 40 feet) high, a minimum of 40 percent shade cover, and 11 species of shade trees. The coffee must also be certified organic. Although this coffee is not certified as a Fair Trade product, the Smithsonian supports similar standards. Bird-Friendly ® certification specifies the most vigorous shade and habitat standards of any coffee certification.
Why Enrich the Biodiversity of an Ecosystem?
Now if you google ‘shade grown coffee’ on the internet all of the websites you’re likely to encounter can list up to 200 species of American songbirds that migrate south to winter in the warmer tropical climates of Mexico, Central and South America.
Now these are beautiful, tiny, birds – some of them weighing less than 10 gms – many who also possess colors that rival the brilliant plumage of any multicolored parrot. As I thought about the biodiversity these shade grown coffee plantations provided these annual travelers, I began wondering if native parrots also benefited from the ecological biodiversity that kept bringing these songbirds back each year.
To learn more I interviewed researchers with the Defenders of Wildlife, the Smithsonian Institute, the World Land Trust and Fundación ProAves Columbia. In the few coffee farms and plantations that these researchers knew of I learned that nearly 40 parrot species living in Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia have directly benefited from shade grown coffee farms and plantations. From this we can conclude that all shade grown coffee farms and plantations that are certified Bird Friendly® Coffee by Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Read the details of everything I learned from these researchers in issue #155 of Parrots magazine – including how shade grown coffee was instrumental in the recovery of the Yellow-eared Parrot (Yellow-eared conure – Ognorhynchus icterotis).
Be Wary of the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Agriculture Network Certification
The Rainforest Alliance (RA) has a long list of indicators and benchmarks for receiving their certification, including 14 mandatory requirements that must be met. Some of their critical criteria includes wildlife protection, occupational health and safety, fair employee treatment, good working conditions and integrated crop management.
Although a company with RA certification clearly has standards that exceed traditional ‘corporate coffee’ plantations I cannot endorse RA certified coffee for the following reasons. 1. RA does not mandate organic certification as one of their requirements for their certification. Millions of lives – people, companion animals and wildlife – are devastated each year from pesticide use. Around the globe fragile ecosystems are destroyed daily from pesticides. Even chemicals approved for use in the US and the EU produce these catastrophic effects. 2. The RA does not include any criteria for coffee bearing their certification to be shade grown. 3. Nor does the RA dictate improving the biodiversity of an area as a part of their Sustainable Agriculture Standard. 4. Of all the organizations, groups and individuals I interviewed while researching this topic the Rainforest Alliance was the only source that could not provide me with the name of one single parrot species – anywhere in the world – who had benefited from their Sustainable Agriculture Standards. For these reasons I do not consider the Rainforest Alliance Certification for coffee a true indicator of a product that helps rather than harms wild parrot species and the environments they live in.
There is only one shade grown coffee certification – that promotes ecological biodiversity and wild parrot species. I whole heatedly endorse the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly ® coffee.
The information presented in this article summarizes research data that first appeared in the December 2010 and January 2011 issues of Parrots magazine, in my monthly column ‘The Holistic Parrot’, (issues #155 and 156). For copies of these issues visit www.parrotmag.com .