How climate-friendly is your cup of coffee?

Jul 03, 2013

Coffee drinkers are encouraged to buy environmentally-friendly coffee, whether it be certified, organic or shade coffee (grown under the shade of trees that are important habitat for birds), but how effective are these ways of growing coffee at combating climate change?

Researchers at Bangor University, Wales, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre, Costa Rica (CATIE) and the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, have recently published findings that may go some way to answering this question in the scientific journals Agricultural Systems and Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment.

The results of these studies suggest that reducing emissions through can help coffee farms combat climate change. Carefully intensifying the productivity of existing coffee farms, as an alternative to extending onto existing forest land, could reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Their study was based on coffee farms and long-term field experiments in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and investigated whether it would make more financial and climate sense for farmers to switch from one type of farm management to another. For example, from a less intensive to a more intensive system, or from conventional to organic farming.

Dr Martin Noponen, a joint Bangor University-CATIE PhD student and lead author of both studies, said: "Our results suggest that in agricultural production systems with shade trees, such as for coffee, the increase in from intensification of production can be compensated for, or in some cases even outweighed, by the increase in uptake of into above-ground and below-ground tree biomass".

"Although growing coffee under shade was not found to improve soil over the first ten years, we know that shaded coffee farms (those with trees planted amongst the coffee bushes) store much more carbon in tree biomass than unshaded full-sun coffee systems. At the same time, however, full-sun farms can be more profitable through higher coffee yields thus creating an economic incentive for farmers to convert shaded to full-sun coffee."

The study found that compensating farmers for not converting to more profitable (but less environmentally-friendly) unshaded coffee would cost from 9.3 to 196.3 US$ per tonne of carbon emissions avoided, depending on the type of shaded system – a value range that is for the most part very expensive and far above current international carbon market prices.

John Healey, Professor of Forest Sciences at Bangor University, who led the research team, said: "It's important to remember that, although shaded might store more carbon and therefore be good for the climate in one sense, if the coffee yield is lower, then coffee farmers collectively may choose to farm a larger area of land in order to maintain their income. This could mean that some encroach onto forested areas with negative impacts on climate, biodiversity and other services provided by forest ecosystems."

"On the other hand, if production could be intensified on shaded farms, coffee farming could help to reduce climate change by storing more atmospheric carbon dioxide in above-ground biomass, while at the same time reducing pressure for further forest conversion to agriculture."

Dr Jeremy Haggar, Head of Agriculture, Health and Environment at the University of Greenwich, said: "Although there are short-term economic advantages to growing full-sun coffee, farmers in Central America have been reverting to shaded systems as they are cheaper to maintain when coffee prices fall." "Within shaded production there is a broad range in the intensity of production, and thus potential to manage those systems with higher coffee productivity and storage of carbon in trees. Overall this would minimize the carbon footprint and reduce the need to expand the area under . Nevertheless identifying those management options will depend on specialised technical support to farmers and incentives to make that investment."

Explore further: Pollination merely one production factor

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Another reason to drink a nice cup of shade-grown joe

Dec 22, 2008

A new study published in the December 23rd issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, reveals another "eco-friendly" reason to select shade-grown coffee over beans that were grown in the sun: Shade coffee farms ...

Pollination merely one production factor

Jun 04, 2013

( —No food for the human race without bees? It is not quite as straightforward as that. A case study by ecologists from ETH Zurich in a coffee-growing area in India reveals that pollinating insects ...

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

( —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.6 / 5 (14) Jul 03, 2013
How climate-friendly is your cup of coffee?

How much of a waste of resources is this article?
3.3 / 5 (12) Jul 04, 2013
How much energy did you waste making your non-substantive post?
1 / 5 (12) Jul 05, 2013
How much energy did you waste making your non-substantive post?

How stupid are you? (#rhetorical)
3.2 / 5 (11) Jul 06, 2013
How much energy did you waste making your non-substantive post?

How stupid are you? (#rhetorical)

Bright enough to know that you've no idea as to the answer.
1 / 5 (4) Aug 19, 2013
"Sarcasm" ladies and gentlemen "Sarcasm".

1 / 5 (4) Aug 20, 2013
How much energy did you waste making your non-substantive post?

How stupid are you? (#rhetorical)

Bright enough to know that you've no idea as to the answer.

Yet too stupid to know what rhetorical means.

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...