A new study published March 1 in the journal People and Nature finds that knowledge about the bird conservation benefits of shade-grown coffee may not be reaching the people most likely to respond – bird watchers.
A team of researchers from Cornell and Virginia Tech surveyed bird watchers to find out if they drank shade-grown coffee. And most importantly, if they didn’t drink it, then why not?
What is shade-grown coffee?
Although coffee has traditionally been grown under mature trees – hence the name “shade-grown coffee” – since the 1970s most farms have done so done switched to full sun monocultures. These newer coffee farms are devoid of trees or other vegetation and cannot support ecosystems or biodiversity.
Bird-friendly coffee is shade grown, which means it is grown and harvested under the canopy of mature trees. This process is similar to historical coffee growing techniques. But as most farms convert to full sun operations, important habitats for migratory and resident bird species continue to disappear. Habitat loss is a key factor in the overall decline of many bird species.
The percentage of Latin American coffee plantations that have been converted to sun-grown coffee varies. In Mexico it is about 15%, but in Colombia it is more than 60%. By 2010, only 24% of the world’s coffee was shade coffee, compared to 43% in 1996.
Less shade coffee means more pesticides
Unfortunately, sun-grown coffee plantations typically use more fertilizers and pesticides, which pollute both the soil and the water. This also leads to the loss of habitat for many animals. For example, shade-grown coffee has traditionally provided habitat not only for birds, but also for butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and more.
Research has shown that shade-grown coffee offers an abundance of migratory birds that, in some cases, is even better than a forest habitat. Some birds that seek shelter in shady coffee plantations include the Cerulean and Canadian Warblers.
Shadow coffee is also a successful strategy to adapt to climate change and helps make the coffee industry more sustainable. Optimal tree coverage reduces exposure to rising temperatures and improves soil health.
Target consumer for shade-grown coffee: the bird watcher
The shift from shade-grown coffee to sun-grown coffee has seen the evolution environmental certifications such as Smithsonian Bird Friendly Coffee as a market-based strategy to promote sustainable coffee production.
Bird watchers are among the top target customers for shade-grown coffee brands. This is partly due to their high willingness to engage in and pay for conservation activities that benefit birds. There are an estimated 45 million bird watchers in the US alone.
In the present study, the researchers interviewed 912 people who identified as both bird watchers and coffee drinkers. Almost half (49%) of respondents said they consider bird habitat when buying coffee. Yet only 38% of respondents were familiar with the bird-friendly coffee certifications, and only 9% said they bought this type of coffee.
Consumers who were older, female and more experienced at birdwatching were more likely to consider birds when purchasing coffee. The main limitations in purchasing bird-friendly coffee were lack of awareness, cost and availability.
Since most birders consider both social and environmental impacts when purchasing coffee, it could be a promising market segment for many coffee certifications. In fact, about half of the birders bought coffee with organic (50%) and Fairtrade (52%) certifications.
Shadow grown coffee easier to find in stores
These results suggest that better information on the impact of coffee production on bird habitats could encourage uptake of bird-friendly coffee. Other factors to emphasize are the unique characteristics of bird-friendly coffee, including high-quality taste. Finally, advocates should focus on providing consumers with easy ways to find and buy bird-friendly coffee.
“One of the biggest limitations to purchasing bird-friendly coffee among respondents was a lack of awareness,” said Alicia Williams , lead author and former research assistant at Cornell Lab and Virginia Tech.
“I was surprised to see that only 9 percent of respondents bought bird-friendly certified coffee and less than 40 percent were familiar with it,” she said.
Increasing bird watchers’ awareness of coffee Shadowculture
Increasing awareness of shadowculture coffee and its potential impact on bird populations can include more and better advertising, more availability of the product and collaborations between conservation organizations and coffee retailers.
Shadow coffee brands currently use well-established certifications like Rainforest Alliance and Smithsonian’s Bird Friendly, but these brands aren’t always easy to find.
“Consistent with social marketing techniques is the elimination of Restrictions on birders’ association with bird-friendly coffee essential to driving sales of bird-friendly coffee and ultimately promoting the environmental benefits of shade-grown coffee.”
Study: “Birders Tap to Promote Bird-Friendly Coffee Consumption and Protect Birds”Authors: Alicia Williams, Ashley A. Dayer, J. Nicolas Hernandez-Aguilera, Tina B. Phillips, Holly Faulkner-Grant, Miguel I Gómez and Amanda D. RodewaldPublished in: People and NaturePublished Date:1. March 2021DOI: https://doi. org/10.1002/pan3.10191Photo: by IvaCastro from Pixabay
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