I’m a caffeine addict. The cup of joe I have—must have—within 30 minutes of waking up is non-negotiable. I’ve accepted this vice, but at least I can get my fix with countless varieties of socially and ecologically acceptable coffees, all available at my local market. Fair-trade? Organic? Shade-grown? Fair-trade and organic and shade-grown? Yes, please.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
So I was surprised to learn that less and less of the world’s coffee supply is from beans grown in the shade, the cultivation method that doesn’t require synthetic chemicals and better supports forest ecosystems. Despite the beans’ considerable presence on store shelves, a recent study found that the amount of land around the world farmed for shade grown coffee, relative to coffee cultivation as a whole, has fallen nearly 20 percent since 1996.
Shade-grown coffee is not some marketing gimmick dreamed up for Starbuck’s-sipping telecommuters. Coffee berries originated in Ethiopia’s forested mountains, and until scientists invented sun-loving varieties in the 1970s, almost all coffee farmers, from Kenya to Costa Rica, grew their beans under shady green canopies.
But now, according to lead author Jalene Sha, a biology professor at the University of Texas-Austin, shade-grown accounts for less than two percent of the global coffee market. So a whopping 98 percent of the world’s coffee comes from farmers growing berries under a hot tropical sun—from plants that need lots of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to thrive. And those types of sunny coffee plantations are still on the rise.
Three-quarters of the beans from Vietnam, which has rapidly become the world’s second largest coffee producer, are from plantations that use “intensified management” to grow coffee plants without shade. Between 1990 and 2010, bean production in the country rose 1,102 percent, with the amount of land given over to coffee increasing more than seven-fold.
Meanwhile, shade-growers in traditional coffee producing regions such as Africa and South America are abandoning the crop altogether, mostly due to volatile price swings for beans. Lower yields make cultivating shade-grown coffee a more expensive endeavor, and influxes of the high-yield, sun-grown beans cause market prices to drop.
An OPEC-like cartel called the International Coffee Organization once had target prices and quotas for coffee-producing countries that helped stabilize the boom-bust cycle that’s typical of commodities. But the so-called “International Coffee Agreement” broke down in 1989. Since then, coffee farmers on small plantations—who usually make between $350 to $600 dollars per year—have been more vulnerable to the extreme price fluctuations.
This isn’t just a bad situation for farmers but for forests and wildlife as well. With their coffee bushes nestled among the trees, traditional shaded coffee farms are almost indistinguishable from the surrounding rainforest.
“The birds, bees and butterflies love it because there’s tons of fruits and flowers and insects above the coffee plants,” says Sha. A sun coffee farm? Well, that looks like a cornfield in Iowa.
When farmers clear the forests to grow more coffee plants, they sacrifice all the associated boons like natural pest control, pollinators and soil preservation. And if that’s not enough, experts (and aspiring coffee connoisseurs like myself) point out that the quality of the coffee suffers, too. Life in the sun brings a more bitter brew.
So how can coffee lovers make sure their morning buzz helps to conserve forests and support small farmers? Every researcher I spoke to mentioned the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center “bird-friendly” label as being the holy grail of sustainable shade-coffee certifications.
And the study authors, who conducted their research in 19 countries on four continents, rave about the coffee they drank in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico. This is home to the world’s oldest organic (and shade-grown) coffee farm, Finca Irlanda and a stopovers site for more than 150 species of migratory birds. And let’s face it: birdsong is actually the best part of waking up.
This article was originally posted in Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
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