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Coffee reserve farm in Columbia. Credit: Randy Dettmers/USFWS
Coffee reserve farm in Columbia. Credit: Randy Dettmers/USFWS

Shade Grown Coffee

Saving migratory birds of North and Latin Americas.

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By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region

The Cerulean Warbler is a small songbird named for its pale blue hue. It breeds in mature forests in eastern North America and migrates each year across the Gulf of Mexico and through Central America to winter in South America. From October to March the entire population inhabits the broad-leaved evergreen forests of the northern Andes Mountains in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

The warblers’ wintering habitat is disappearing quickly. Most of the original forests in the northern Andes have been lost as the land has been converted for agriculture, mostly for coffee crops and pasture for cattle.

The deforestation contributes to global warming as the trees are cut and burned, releasing carbon. Additionally, as trees are lost, the ecosystem is losing is capacity to sequester carbon.

The Cerulean Warbler population today is just one-fourth of what it was just 40 years ago. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists from the Northeast and other areas of the country along with their counterparts in South America are striving to find ways to reverse this precipitous decline. This international partnership is working to develop programs that will maintain or restore forest habitat for the songbird.

Cerulean Warblers, which feed on insects in tree canopies, are known to occupy shade-coffee plantations where taller trees shade the shorter coffee plants. To meet global demand for coffee (see sidebar), shade-coffee plantations throughout the warblers’ wintering area are being replaced by higher-yield sun-grown coffee crops.

The Service and its South American conservation partners, including Fundación ProAves, are focusing their efforts on shade-grown coffee, including promoting existing certification of shade coffee plantations and carbon sequestration among landowners, organizing farms to achieve the certification requirements, and promoting coffee products that conserve forest habitat for these birds. Farmers will make a better living by being paid a premium for cultivating shade-grown crops.

The partnership also hopes to establish carbon sequestration credit programs that would allow industries afar to earn credit for supporting reforestation efforts in South America. By replanting trees, the forests of the northern Andes would regain their capacity to capture carbon and combat global warming.

The hope is that these international conservation efforts will keep the Cerulean Warbler off the endangered species list and that its song may be heard long into the future.

The world’s love of coffee runs deep

  • The International Coffee Organization estimates that people consumed 7.8 billion kilograms of coffee in 2008.  
  • More than half of all Americans over the age of 18 -- 107 million people -- drink coffee daily.
  • Coffee is the world's second-most-valuable commodity exported by developing countries, after oil.
  • The global coffee industry earns an estimated $60 billion annually but less than 10 percent of those earnings end up in the hands of coffee farmers. Although the fair trade coffee (coffee that is sustainable and pays a fair price to farmers) market is on the rise, it constitutes only two percent of the world's coffee supply.
  • Fundación ProAves produces shade grown Cerulean Warbler Conservation Coffee to support habitat protection for the species.
  • Our choices as consumers can have a direct impact on the survival of a declining species and a disappearing ecosystem. 


Last updated: November 9, 2012
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