Those who care about protecting endangered species, especially birds, might want to read the whole piece. Here are some important excerpts:
“Our” migratory birds spend more time in the tropics in the winter than they do here in the breeding season. To survive long enough to migrate north and nest once again, they must find suitable living conditions during the winter months. Historically, shade coffee farms have provided a great deal of such habitat.Shade farms grow their coffee trees in the midst of a mix of other, taller trees and plants that provide excellent habitat for birds, but sun farms eliminate the taller trees and grow only coffee.
Unfortunately, a quest for cheaper coffee over the last several decades has caused tens of thousands of acres of this valuable land to be destroyed. New coffee types — known as “sun coffee” or “technified coffee” — have been developed that can be grown without the protection of shade, in higher densities, and with higher yield. In Latin America alone, roughly three million of the nearly seven million acres of shade coffee have been converted to sun cultivation.For reasons Crave explains in her essay there's no standard definition of "shade-grown" coffee. She suggests that we buy only "certified" coffee, a term which requires a bit of explanation:
The impact of the deforestation is much greater than the absolute levels of destruction would indicate. Sun coffee requires the application of large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, and it depletes soils through erosion and the sapping of nutrients — all things that damage intricate tropical ecosystems.
Unfortunately, certified coffees make up a relatively small portion of the coffee sold in the world today. If you have trouble finding it in stores, keep in mind that certifications are voluntary and market-driven. If we buy more certified coffee (and pay more for it), supply will increase, and it will become easier to find. And even if you can’t find certified coffee right now, you can still drink responsibly. Here are three steps to take when shopping:Among coffees that are labeled "shade grown" the consumer should look for a "Bird-friendly" certification:
1. Consider the country of origin. Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, India, and Ethiopia are more likely to grow coffee under shade, while Costa Rica, Brazil, and Colombia are more likely to grow sun coffee.
2. Try to buy from a small company dedicated to coffee, rather than a large multinational corporation. Good roasters develop relationships with the farms and co-ops — it’s in everybody’s best interest for the coffee to be grown sustainably. Large corporations, on the other hand, are more interested in profit, which means high volume and low prices achieved through technified sun coffee.
3. Which brings us to price. Cheap coffee is not sustainable, not for the farmer and not for the environment. I can’t state it any plainer than this: If you are buying inexpensive grocery-store or fast-food coffee, you are contributing to the destruction of bird habitat and the decline of migratory songbirds. It’s one of the worst things you can do for the environment on a daily basis — and one of the easiest things for you to change.
This is the only true “shade-grown” certification. Developed by ecologists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, it has the most robust habitat requirements of any coffee certification, including rules on the height and density of the canopy cover and the number and types of shade-tree species. In addition, coffee that is Bird-Friendly must also be certified organic. Only coffee certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center can be called Bird-Friendly.Craves discusses other considerations in her article as well. It's a piece well-worth reading if you're concerned about what you can do to make a contribution toward the ecological well-being of the planet.