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Does shade coffee help or hinder conservation?

While shade coffee is promoted as protecting tropical forests and birds, conservationists are split on whether it actually works. The December issue of Conservation Biology has the latest on the debate: one side says shade coffee can give farmers a reason to preserve tropical biodiversity while the other side fears it can actually encourage farmers to clear more forest.

Shade coffee is a traditional farming method of growing coffee bushes under a canopy of diverse trees, which helps protect the many bird species that depend on them.

The case for shade coffee is argued by Stacy Philpott of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Thomas Dietsch of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington DC, who say the keys to making it work are requiring rigorous certification and offering financial incentives. "Without incentives, and faced with economic hardship, farmers may convert their lands to sun coffee, pasture or swidden agriculture, requiring that they cut more forest," they say.

Philpott and Dietsch say that there are currently two rigorous shade certification programs (Bird-friendly Coffee from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and Eco-OK from the Rainforest Alliance) that require a diverse canopy over coffee farms. However, these programs are not widely used by small coffee farmers in part because they can be expensive.

To encourage more farmers to continue growing shade coffee instead of switching to less conservation-friendly types of agriculture, Philpott and Dietsch advocate linking shade certification with fair-trade certification. The latter has the advantages of covering the costs of farm visits, and of helping small farmers make a living by offering price premiums and loans. "Unless shade standards are linked to price premiums for coffee producers...these programs will ultimately fail...when farmers face the choice of clearing forest or starvation," they say.

To make shade certification programs str
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Contact: Stacy Philpott
sphilpot@umich.edu
734-764-1446
Society for Conservation Biology
24-Nov-2003


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