Ethical Coffee: Powerful Concoction to Save Forests?

ETHICAL COFFEE: POWERFUL CONCOCTION TO SAVE FORESTS?

A global shift to shade-grown coffee production can save nearly 10 million hectares of rainforest and bring us better tasting coffee, reports Worldwatch Researcher Brian Halweil in the May/June edition of the World Watch magazine. “Shade-grown organic coffee is better for the environment, better for the farmer’s pocketbook, and tastes better,” Halweil says in the article, “Shade-Grown Coffee—A Winning Fix.” A few major coffee houses are now offering “ethical” coffee, triple-certified to be organic, grown in the shade, and fairly traded.

“Coffee, if grown right, can be one of the rare human industries that actually restore the Earth’s health,” according to Halweil. But in the last few decades, over 40 percent of the area devoted to growing coffee in Colombia, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean has been converted to full-sun cultivation. While this conversion allows farmers to grow more coffee per hectare, it destroys the rainforest and squanders many of the natural benefits of growing coffee in the shade. The initial economic gain is, at best, short-term.

Coffee grown under a rainforest canopy requires fewer pesticides, less chemical fertilizer, and almost no irrigation water, thus cutting down on farmers’ expenses. Farmers’ finances benefit in other ways as well. For example, on shade coffee farms in Peru, farmers derive nearly 30 percent of their income from sales of firewood, timber, fruits, medicinal plants, and other natural products grown in tandem with coffee beans. When shade farms are converted to full-sun use the diversity and number of organisms in the area crashes, says Halweil. The rainforests’ role in sequestering carbon and protecting freshwater resources is lost.

Coffee aficionados, too, are beginning to taste the difference: Shade-grown coffees are now winning a disproportionate number of tasting competitions all over the world and bring a premium price.


THE TOXIC WAR AGAINST MALARIA NOT A WINNING BATTLE

Continued use of the toxic pesticide DDT, which has been banned in most countries, will not halt the spread of mosquitoes that carry the malaria virus, according to “Malaria, Mosquitoes, and DDT.” Researcher Anne Platt McGinn reports on the availability of low-cost, less toxic alternatives to fight malaria, which kills about 3 million people annually (about the same number as HIV/AIDS). “There are good reasons for thinking that progress against the disease is compatible with reductions in DDT use,” says McGinn. Insecticide-treated bednets, an effective preventive measure against malaria, are still unaffordable for many people in the areas that are most heavily affected by the disease. McGinn suggests doing away with all taxes and tariffs on bednets and on pesticides that are applied to them. She also recommends incorporating malaria education and prevention into existing healthcare programs and including malaria prevention efforts in other programs, such as irrigation schemes and antipoverty campaigns.


SAVING BIRDS WILL SAFEGUARD THE FUTURE OF HUMANS

A tropical forest canopy, in addition to providing shade for coffee, shelters resident and migratory birds and helps to “marry agricultural and conservation interests,” which Howard Youth describes as a promising strategy for saving birds. In “The Plight of Birds,” Youth warns that habitat loss, hunting, and pollution are pushing more than a thousand species of birds to the brink of extinction. Addressing the issues threatening birds will also safeguard the future of humans who depend on them for essential natural services.


LOOKING BACK IN ORDER TO MOVE AHEAD

With the environmental movement approaching another important milestone, the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development, World Watch has compiled a four-decade timeline to review the movement’s progress to date.

ALSO IN THE MAY/JUNE ISSUE
  • Update: How forests respond to nitrogen pollution

  • Environmental Intelligence: Black market CFCs move South; India builds dam over seismic fault; New studies show cooling and ice-sheet thickening in Antarctica; Activists propose halting biological patenting