All About Green

Shaded Coffee

Jun 2023
Author: Green Power
a cup of coffee on wood
photo from pixabay

Coffee is one of the best-selling beverages worldwide. According to data from the International Coffee Organization, global coffee consumption approached a staggering 10 million metric tons between 2020 and 2021, and the numbers continue to rise.While the coffee industry generates tremendous economic gains, the various stages from coffee production to processing have a significant impact on theenvironment, and the ever-expanding demand for cultivation has become an even greater shadow looming over the natural ecosystem.

The history of coffee bean cultivation dates back to ancient times. It is commonly believed to have its origins in the tropical regions of Africa and had always been an important agricultural crop in the East-African to Middle-Eastern regions throughout history. However, with growing trade and sociocultural development, coffee found its way onto dining tables across the globe, and the demand for it continues to increase day by day.

Sincethe last century, extensive forest areas have been cleared to make way for coffee plantations in order to meet market demand. According to a report released by Forest Trends in 2021, the top 10 coffee-producing countries were responsible for a staggering 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissionsin 2017 due to their clearance of forests for coffee cultivation. This amount is equivalent to the emissions generated by a gasoline-powered car circumnavigating the Earth's equator approximately 17 million times. The areas that are being developed for coffee cultivation are predominantly tropical and subtropical rainforests, which happen to be the most biologically diverse regions on Earth. As a result, the expansion of the coffee industry poses athreat to various endangered tropical species such as orangutans and Sumatrantigers.

vietnam coffee farm
In Vietnam, natural forests have been extensively transformed intovast coffee plantations
photo from pixabay

In light of these concerns, many scientists are encouraging farmersto cultivate “shaded coffee”. This is not a novel coffee variety, but a practice of cultivating coffee under the shade of trees. By planting coffee trees beneath the forest canopy, it allows for coffee production without the need for deforestation.

Compared to sun-drenched plantations, cultivating coffee beneath the forest canopy may result in lower short-term yields. However, since coffee naturally thrives in the understory of forests, coffee grown in this way often boasts exceptional quality and a heightened market value. Moreover, it minimizes disruption to the existing forest ecosystem. A study published in the journal “Global Ecology and Conservation” towards the end of 2022 revealed a fascinating discovery – in the shaded coffee plantations of Kenya, there is a remarkable diversity of bird species surpassing that of native forests. However, the study also shed light on the distinct species composition between the two habitats, highlighting the presence of certain bird species exclusive to the undisturbed native forests.This underscores the enduring significance of preserving undisturbed forests in their pristine state.

coffee plantation
Coffeetrees cultivated in the understory of forests
photo from pixabay

Inrecent years, some rural areas in Hong Kong that have embarked on rehabilitation also attempted to preserve the existing woodlands, embracing the innovative agroforestry practice of cultivating “shaded coffee”. After years of experimentation, both the yield and quality of these coffee crops have shown remarkable improvement. While there is still a distance before large-scale productioncan be realized, this undoubtedly presents a good alternative forenvironmentally friendly coffee.