Birds and Coffee

A richer earth.

We chose our name to highlight the link between the cultivation of coffee and its impact on ecosystems around the world. The songbird migration that we North Americans witness twice each year is a natural wonder of the world.

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It is endangered.  We are doing what we can to help.

Songbird populations are dropping due to many factors, but  most significantly because of their shrinking wintering grounds in South and Central America. Tropical rainforests are being clear-cut and replaced by industrial farming enterprises with no regard for the impact on the environment. In most regions the last refuge for our migratory birds and other wildlife are shade coffee farms.

Bird Friendly habitat
Our Nicaraguan coffee source.  Quality forest for as far as the eye can see.

Sadly, even these remaining almost wild places are being degraded and destroyed.

Coffee is naturally a small shade loving tree. It was traditionally grown under the canopy of the rainforest with other shade loving agricultural crops. Grown in this way coffee is does not require agrochemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides)…  Grown in natural shade, coffee is well suited to be grown organically and in harmony with the natural environment.

Isun-coffeen the last couple of decades the coffee industry developed coffee trees that can tolerate the sun and produce higher yields. Without regard to the consequences, the clear-cutting began.  And so did the shift from one of the lowest impact crops on the environment to one of the highest. Lured by the promise of higher yeilds, growers shifted from shade covered polyculture using little or no agrochemicals to coffee monoculture requiring huge quantities of fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide.

This industrial style cultivation eradicates the winter homes of our migratory birds by destroying the forest like habitat and through chemical poisoning. Their alarming decline is the wake up call of a collapsing eco-system.

Picking at Gaia Estate
A pickers using traditional methods

Fortunately many small growers continue to grow coffee in the traditional way on farms with shade canopies. Others, seeing the destruction of their land are returning to the practices of their youth. We have much to learn from these people who preserve habitat and farm within a more natural environment rather than the destructive “technified” monoculture of North America.

We can help stop the madness by purchasing certified Bird Friendly® coffee. Scientists have shown that the ecosystem on these farms functions similarly to virgin rainforest supporting nearly as many bird species as does virgin rainforest. By contrast the ecosystem on sun coffee and partial shade farms has collapsed. These farms have been shown to support very few bird species, and not the same ones as the ecosystems on certified Bird Friendly® farms.

Transparent, third party certification is crucial to ensure the quality of the shade is actually providing habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Birds and Beans committed to purchasing exclusively certified Bird Friendly coffee in 2013. After more than 10 years of working hard to source rustic shade coffee we saw shade label claims on coffee with poor quality shade and even sun coffee. It became clear that to preserve biodiversity in coffee growing regions, we cannot accept unverified shade claims.

We challenge all other roasters and coffee marketers to refrain from unscientific and unverified shade label claims and instead offer certified Bird Friendly® coffee.

Cup of Coffee
Cup of Certified Bird Friendly Peru Norte

By seeking out coffee that is certified to preserve habitat, and compensating farmers fairly  for their global contribution to biodiversity, we can save these lush agro-forest ecosystems. It is the easiest and most impactful act we can collectively make to ensure that the songbird migration continues for future generations.

Oh… and did we mention that it tastes better?

Further Reading:

Bird Friendly® Coffee

Kenn Kaufman goes birding on a Bird Friendly® coffee farm 

Kenn Kaufman’s Blog

Silence of the Songbirds

Bird Friendly® Criteria

Shade Coffee Species List

We invite your comments