Some biodiversity with your coffee, Sir?

7 12 2008

Bird on coffee cherriesI really like my coffee. I’m sure there are a few billion humans who claim likewise, but I think I could safely categorise myself as a coffee snob. I cannot even contemplate placing powdery crystals into a cup of hot water and calling it ‘coffee’, let alone imbibing the toxic concoction. I spend way too much money on very slow-roasted, dark, oily beans that have to be ground to the exact espresso consistency to use in my Bialetti cafettiera, and I’ll search high and low for the best coffee produced in any city in which I live or to where I travel (N.B. Still haven’t found what I call a ‘great’ coffee in the CBD of Adelaide – suggestions welcome). I really, really like good coffee.

What the hell does all this meandering preamble have to do with biodiversity conservation? I’m happy you asked. With environmentally conscious consumers now demanding some sort of ‘green’ certification for many products (e.g., no palm oil, carbon-neutral, fair trade, etc.), coffee has also been targeted as a good product to certify for harvest and production of lower environmental impact than has been done traditionally. Well, how do you measure ‘green-ness’ in a product? For coffee, there are some good ways.

A recent paper (and candidate for the Potential list) by Aaron Gove and colleagues published in Conservation Letters entitled Ethiopian coffee cultivation – implications for bird conservation and environmental certification demonstrates how the cultivation of this NATIVE Ethiopian plant (Coffea arabica) can enhance or restore the biological value of lowland agricultural areas. This species of ‘highland coffee’ is harvested from forests (where it evolved and now grows naturally) and from more intensive farmland. Interestingly, this species needs some shade to grow, so trees must generally be planted in the agricultural areas to allow this. Result? Gove and colleagues found that birds who otherwise wouldn’t be seen dead in the agricultural areas were attracted there by the maintenance and proliferation of the shade trees, thus reducing regional extinction risk for fragmented populations dependent on forest remnants. The flip side was that coffee cultivation in forest remnants reduced bird diversity because of the obvious trade-off between some native trees and intensive agricultural crops.

So, the next time you’re thinking of buying certified coffee, think of this – the cultivation of INDIGENOUS (did I say that loudly enough?) coffee species requiring shade promotes the proliferation of native forest trees to reduce the extinction risk of threatened birds. The number of boxes to tick on my coffee-snobbery list has just grown by two.

CJA Bradshaw

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5 responses

4 04 2011
Buzzing to the plate «

[…] in promoting pollinator diversity and increasing crop yields]. Secondly, in agro-forestry schemes, coffee plantations are often grown under the shade of secondary forests (Fig. 2) – the enhanced botanic heterogeneity procures suitable nesting and sheltering habitat […]


27 01 2009
Corey Bradshaw

Found it – best coffee so far in Adelaide:


22 12 2008

Thanks for the papers. These will be very useful for me!

Go ahead with the blog!!



17 12 2008
Corey Bradshaw

Hi Julian,

Thanks for the comment and kind words. I couldn’t agree more, but I think the onus is on those of us lucky enough to have been educated to assist in developing farming practices that are less destructive (choice of planting design, choice of species, rotation patterns, etc.). I’m no agronomist either, but then again, most agronomists have no idea about ecosystem services and ecological function. Time to create some overlaps. For your information, there’s been some good recent development of these concepts published in Conservation Letters. See the following links:

CJA Bradshaw


14 12 2008
Julián Velasco

I don´t known much about agroecosystems, but I think that the real problem with implementation of this systems is political, social and economical reasons in developing countries. For example, in Colombia (the second coffee producer country in Colombia) we have a serious problem of land concentration (“landowner”), with few people have near 60% of arable land in the country. Paradoxically, this land is not in productive use, many of these farms are extensive pastures without cows! Despite of this, we have a good experiences with small farmers that have interests in sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. But we need to reach more people, unfortunately many farmers don’t have formal education . I think that the real problem is a complex mixture of several factors that condition land use as political actions (poor development programs, inadequate agrarian politics), economy (few incentives to agriculture), lack of scholarship (rural regions without formal education and schools with low assistance) and politics interests of our government. So, implementation of agroecosystems in tropical countries is in infancy. Probably in a near future is possible to get it. But I have feelings about missing biodiversity when that occur.

Thanks for this excellent blog!

sorry for grammar!



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