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Guest post: Truly sustainable coffee

This post was written by Emmy, an intern with DLG studying natural resources and sustainable development.

Peach tree

There are multiple aspects that make De La Gente Coffee fantastic. As a treehugger I was happy to learn that DLG coffee is sustainable – socially, economically, and environmentally. Besides being delicious coffee that is sold via direct trade, ensuring that the farmers receive 100% of the profits, DLG co-op farmers are contributing to more eco-friendly practices by producing shade grown coffee, which has many ecological benefits.

Loading firewood from the coffee fields

On a recent coffee tour through DLG’s community tourism program I was able to see one of the farmers in the cooperative’s coffee plants shaded by a variety of trees. Andres, the farmer, explained that trees, like avocado trees, can be used to provide shade while also serving a second purpose of supplying edible fruits or supplemental income for the family. During the thinning season, the branches of the trees can be used for firewood. Fallen leaves from trees also turn into organic matter and increase soil fertility. This agroforestry system provides other benefits as well. Trees in coffee fields act as a biological corridor and provide habitat for many species, especially for migratory birds that can also fend off pests. A variety of trees on coffee fields also increases pollinators like bees that are essential for coffee growing. Moreover, trees help reduce soil erosion particularly in mountainous areas, like here in San Miguel Escobar on Volcán Agua, where many of the farmers in the San Miguel Cooperative have their coffee fields. Shade grown coffee soils have also shown to store higher levels of carbon, which is beneficial for both soil health and thus plant health, as well as sequestering carbon dioxide (in addition to in the trees) to help mitigate climate change. Studies show that these soils also have better infiltration rates, meaning there’s less soil runoff and better water quality.

Shaded coffee

All in all, trees for shade grown coffee provide ecosystem services for farmers and help contribute to environmental conservation.

Rice, R & Bedoya, M. (2010). The ecological benefits of shade-grown coffee. Retrieved from http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/coffee/bird_friendly/ecological-benefits-of-shade-grown-coffee.cfm