Originally, normal and organic coffee farming was done in the shade of trees. The coffee bean that was used at that time could not handle direct sunlight. The shade trees also provided a habitat for many small animals, birds and insects. Remnant forest trees were used for this purpose, but many species of trees have been planted as well. Many of the organic farmers were producing organic fair trade shade grown coffee.
The nitrogen rich shade trees also enhanced the soil and slowed down the riping of the seed or bean. It also supplied a natural habitat for the birds who in turn ate the insects.
This method is commonly referred to as the traditional shaded method, or “shade-grown.” But starting in the 1970s, many farmers switched their production method to full sun cultivation. New hybrids beans were developed that increased the production of the crop when exposed to sun. Coffee started to be grown in rows under full sun with little or no forest canopy. This caused the berries to ripen more rapidly and bushes to produce higher yields of the valuable crop. Return on investment was a big factor here. But the biggest problem with this method is, it requires the clearing of trees and increased use of fertilizer and pesticides. Both which damage the environment and cause health problems.
The organic fair trade shade grown coffee took a big hit as many growers cut down their shade trees and switched to the profitable new hybrid bean.
Ultimately, unshaded coffee enhanced by fertilizer use, yields the highest amounts of coffee. The unfertilized shaded crops generally yield higher than unfertilized unshaded crops. The response to fertilizer is much greater in full sun.
The hybrids or “sun” coffee has a greater yield but has other environmental costs. The hybrids need high doses of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Soil erosion, water run off and the stress on the soil makes it hard to plant the same land every year. Many more trees were taken down in the rain forest so farmers could rest the land and plant new crops.
The song bird population has diminished 20% because of the lack of habitat
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Traditional organic fair trade shade grown coffee production causes berries to ripen more slowly and produce lower yields, the quality of the coffee is allegedly superior and used for gourmet coffee.
In addition, the traditional shaded method provides living space for many wildlife species. The believers of shade cultivation which are mainly organic farmers say environmental problems such as deforestation, pesticide pollution, habitat destruction, and soil and water degradation are the side effects of the practices employed in sun cultivation.
Today the sale of organic fair trade shade grown coffee is less that 1%. The only way to encourage the farming of organic fair trade shade grown coffee is to buy the product. It is a supply and demand thing. Once there is more demand and more farmers will switch back to the organic fair trade shade grown coffee.
I strongly recommend Bernice’s Shade Grown Organic available from Hunter Bay Coffee. They have some very unique blends of coffee that are their own. They also have a Coffee Club for those that like that and also have some nice Coffee Gifts. Highly recommended!
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