Sustainability of Farming
Joe's Sustainable Farm,
India - Team 01639. Traditionally, coffee is grown using the shade plantation method. The coffee crop is planted as an under-story plant, together with other taller trees which provide shade. Hence the name "shade-grown coffee". The shade is needed because the traditional coffee cultivars tolerate sunlight poorly. Also, such farms result in a fairly stable production system, and the farmers benefit from both the coffee plant and the canopy trees. In Costa Rica, farmers plant timber species as well as other fruit plants, such as bananas, guavas and citrus. Hence, the shade trees provide income security for small growers.
During the mid-1970s, fear of an outbreak of the coffee rust disease alerted the various agencies in Latin America to take precautionary action. Governments responded by "technifying" their coffee plantation system to avoid any further spread of this fungus disease. The USAID Regional Office on Central America and Panama defines, "technification" as "using scientific pruning, shading, applying agrochemicals, planting new high-yield varieties, and increasing the density of coffee in order to increase production". Hence, canopy trees were removed and replaced with additional coffee plants; "technified" varieties were developed to grow in full sunlight; and more agrochemicals were applied. Technification led to a dramatic increase in yield - up to 5 times more than shade-grown coffee.
Ironically, the coffee rust disease did not spread as feared. Instead, the spread of "technified" farms has led to enormous changes in the ecosystem and the life of coffee farmers. Sun plantations do not support the environment. They require more care than shade plantations, and they are also riskier for the farmers. With shaded plantations, the farmers have a diversified income: coffee from the coffee bush, fruits and wood from the canopy trees. This diversification helps them cushion the blow from any one crisis. With sun plantations, coffee becomes the only significant source of income for the farmers. So they either do very well if coffee prices rise or they suffer tremendous losses if the prices plummet.. This has been demonstrated clearly with the recent global coffee crisis.
The American Phytopathological Society – Plant Pathology / Disease online
Coffee Research Institute
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Plant Pathology
Natural Resources Defense Council
NorthWest Shade Coffee Campaign
“Shade vs. Sun Coffee: A review” by Shawn Steiman
The Trade and Environment Database
Chamisa Mesa High School
INeedCoffee – articles by Dr. Anand Titius and Geeta N. Pereira