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Human Impact

Coffee farmers in developing countries receive only 10 per cent of the retail price of the product.
Coupled with this is competition among growers that has led to price reductions and undercutting,
which leaves growers with no safety margin when the supply drops or bad weather hits. As with
sweatshop labor, growers are not always treated well and often work in poor conditions, all for a
fraction of the cost that the final product the coffee we consume is sold for.

The use of pesticides and agricultural chemicals in coffee can be harmful for the health of the
consumer: harmful chemical residues may reach our systems when we drink coffee

Animal Impact

Traditionally, coffee beans were grown under a shaded canopy of trees, but modern methods of
growing which require high outputs regardless of the weather are stripping away the sustainability of
traditional growing methods. In many cases now the canopy which would once have provided a
habitat for various animals, insects, flora and fauna has been replaced with intensive sun cultivation,
where coffee is grown in plantations that rely on the use of chemical fertilisers and unsustainable
agricultural farming methods.

Environmental Impact

Increasing competition and a drive for increased output are impacting the environment in negative
ways, with monocropping becoming the new norm alongside sun cultivation methods. WWF reports
that because of this, 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America have been cleared to make way for
coffee farming, and this deforestation is on the rise in coffee-growing countries. Incidentally, 37 of the
50 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates are also major coffee producers.

Contamination of waterways also pose serious environmental threats from the processing of coffee
beans. Largely irrespective of how coffee is grown, discharges from coffee processing plants
represent a major source of river pollution. Ecological impacts result from the discharge of organic
pollutants from the processing plants to rivers and waterways, triggering eutrophication of water
systems and robbing aquatic plants and wildlife of essential oxygen

Deforestation trends are serious throughout the coffee producing lands of Latin America and
remarkable biodiversity values are at stake. Latin Americas tropical forests are critical ecologically for
purposes of protection of atmospheric dynamics, water quality, wildlife species, as well as


Unsurprisingly, there is also an enormous amount of waste produced during the manufacturing of
coffee.The process of separating the commercial product (the beans) from the coffee cherries
generates enormous volumes of waste material in the form of pulp, residual matter and parchment.
Over a 6 month period in 1988, it was estimated that processing 547,000 tons of coffee in Central
America generated as much as 1.1 million tons of pulp and polluted 110,000 cubic metres of water
each day. This excess waste can also play havoc with soil and water sources as coffee pulp is often
dumped into streams, severely degrading fragile systems.

Soil quality

Soil quality is also seen to be affected when sun cultivated practices are favoured over the traditional
growing means. The elimination of shade cover can cause significant impacts on various soil quality
parameters, with higher rates of erosion occurring on renovated coffee plantations where vegetation
has been reduced.

What Can We Do?

Theres a simple answer to this question we need to commit to buying certified coffee brands. The
first certification worth supporting is the fair trade label. This certification means that farmers
cooperatives deal directly with the retailers and get to sell their coffee for a worthy price. There is
more transparency that means the coffee can actually be traced back to the growers, and it also
means that a wage is guaranteed to growers so that market fluctuations wont leave them out of

The other option is to buy Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee. RA focuses more on environmental
standards rather than wages for growers. The argument could be made however that by investing in
sustainable lifestyles and encouraging eco-friendly land use practices, RA contributes to the wellbeing
of growers in its own way.

Buy a coffee labeled "sustainable." At this writing sustainable is a rather loose term meaning that, in
the view of the importer or roaster, designated farmers are doing everything within reason to avoid the
use of agricultural chemicals and to pursue enlightened environmental and socially progressive
practices in the growing and processing of their coffees.
Buy a traditional coffee, grown as coffee was grown from its inception, before agricultural chemicals
were invented. All Yemen, almost all Ethiopia, and most Sumatra Mandheling coffees are grown in
such a state of innocence, and all are among the worlds finest.

A sustainable alternative? Shade-Grown Coffee

An environmentally favoured alternative to sun cultivated coffee is shade-grown coffee. In this
method, coffee plants are interspersed beneath local forest trees, mimicking the way coffee
grows naturally in these regions.
According to the American Birding Association (ABA), shade coffee plantations are second
only to undisturbed forests as the best habitat for birds and other fauna in Latin America.
Whats more is the presence of vegetation amongst coffee plants reduces the need for
intense herbicide preparations, supports at least 50% of the original forest snakes and spider
fauna and protects topsoil effectively.
Shade grown coffee can be purchased by the bag in leading supermarkets and across the
internet and are labelled as shade grown coffee. Although more expensive, these means of
cultivation are the best alternatives to an environmentally detrimental and ever expanding
Sun Cultivation Coffee(original method)

Originating in the 1970s, sun cultivated (or sun grown) coffee is produced on plantations, where
forestry is cleared so that coffee is grown in rows as a monoculture with no canopy.

Sun cultivated coffee, in concert with the necessary addition of fertilizer, creates the highest yield of
coffee, but eliminates the diversity of plants which support an array of insects and animals, posing
detrimental impacts to the biodiversity of the region, as well as other environmental harms. Farmers
have been positively encouraged to replace their traditional and supposedly inefficient farming
methods with the higher yielding technique of sun cultivation, which has resulted in over 2.5 million
acres of forest being cleared in Central America alone to make way for coffee farming in this way.