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Shade grown coffee shrinking as a proportion of global coffee production

By University of Texas

The proportion of land used to cultivate shade grown coffee, relative to the total land area of coffee cultivation, has fallen by nearly 20 percent globally since 1996, according to a new study by scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and five other institutions.

The study's authors say the global shift toward a more intensive style of coffee farming is probably having a negative effect on the environment, communities and individual farmers.

"The paradox is that there is greater public interest than ever in environmentally friendly coffee, but where coffee production is expanding across the globe, it tends to be very intensive," says Shalene Jha, assistant professor in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences and lead author of the study published April 16 in the journal BioScience.

Traditional shade grown coffee is cultivated under a diverse canopy of native forest trees in dense to moderate shade. Though some of the forest understory is cleared for farming, a rich web of plant and animal life remains. As a result, shade grown coffee plantations provide corridors for migrating birds to move between forest fragments, attract and support economically valuable pollinators such as bees and bats, and provide ecosystem services such as filtering water and air, stabilizing soil during heavy rains, storing carbon and replenishing soil nutrients.

In this latest study, the researchers found that total global production of shade grown coffee has increased since 1996, but the area of land used for non shade coffee has increased at a much faster rate, resulting in shade grown coffee falling from 43 percent of total cultivated area to 24 percent.

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