Today’s Solutions: September 22, 2021

In many cultures around the world, coffee is a daily staple, a social gathering point, and a workday necessity, but when it comes to sustainability, not all coffee is created equal. Now, those who want to sip on coffee with a clear conscience can look for “bird-friendly” or “shade grown” labels when deciding which brew to throw into their shopping carts.

Bird-friendly coffee is grown under canopies of large trees, just as coffee was historically cultivated. These days, most coffee plantations in Central, South America, and the Caribbean have converted to full-sun operations.

Professor Amanda Rodewald from Cornell Lab of Ornithology says, “Over recent decades, most of the shade coffee in Latin America has been converted to intensively managed row monocultures devoid of trees or other vegetation.” This means that crucial animal habitats disappear, making it less likely for birds to survive migration or breed successfully.

Rodewald and her team are hoping to generate more interest in bird-friendly coffee and have started surveying a community they believe would be quite motivated to purchase bird-friendly coffee: birdwatchers.

Over the last 50 years, bird populations in North America have dropped by more than a quarter because of habitat loss and other human activity. Despite this, birdwatching has grown with over 45 million recreational participants in the US. The research team surveyed 900 coffee-drinking birdwatchers to gauge whether people that fall under this category opt for bird-friendly coffee.

Surprisingly, only nine percent of those surveyed purchased shade-grown coffee and less than 40 percent had ever heard of it. The lead author of the study, Alicia Williams, says that “the most significant constraint to purchasing bird-friendly coffee among those surveyed was a lack of awareness.” Most people didn’t know how coffee production impacts birds and their habitats and had no idea where to find bird-friendly coffee for purchase.

The next step is to increase awareness about the benefits of shade-grown coffee and its potential impact on bird populations. Researchers hope to collaborate with public-facing conservation organizations and coffee distributors to get the word about bird-friendly, shade-grown coffee out there.

If you are interested in learning more about coffee and bird conservation, click here.

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