A Match Made in Sustainability Heaven

Picture a coffee farm: bushy trees in neat rows spreading for miles across a mountainside that slopes down to a river and in the distance is a thick forest teeming with wildlife. A beautiful image, isn’t it? Perhaps, but to me this beauty is bittersweet because I know that this farm used to be part of that forest, dense with life and sounds and colour. The idea of a perfectly cultivated farm in a rural setting is the dream life for many people, in the case of coffee farming however, we have the opportunity to plant farms within the rainforest and avoid heavy deforestation.

Having lived in southern Malaysia...

I am no stranger to plantations or the damage caused in preparing land for them. My wake-up alarm used to be the bossy chatting of monkeys, each monkey shouting a little louder than the last. The chorus of birdsong was so constant that it was impossible to decipher one bird’s call from the other. In later years however, it was only the movement of mechanical arms slouching through the trees that disturbed the steady background noise from the grasshoppers.

Coffee plants thrive in biodiverse environments. They love growing in shade, in natural environments this is provided in abundance by the taller trees that make up the forest canopy. Coffee trees – like most plants – require a rich, nutrient dense soil, and since the rainforest floor is essentially the world’s largest compost heap, it goes without saying that the plants flourish there.

I’m sure we can all remember early History lessons where we were taught about the agricultural revolution and how the farmers learnt the hard way about the need for crop rotation – something to do with turnips putting back the much-needed nitrates that greens take out (don’t quote me on that specific example). The principle remains the same wherever and whatever is farmed. By removing indigenous plants, you remove the natural cycles of nutrients in and out. Without nature to balance the soil you introduce the need for herbicides and pesticides. On the face of it you might be taking out ‘weeds’ that leech nutrients from the soil or wrap tendrils around your crop, but in doing so you take out the habitat for the animals and insects and the plants that made the soil so rich in the first place.

The production of coffee does not have to be a reason for irresponsible deforestation, instead it can lead the way for responsible agriculture. The people who grow and harvest coffee have a responsibility to care for the forests and the land. We have a responsibility to trade fairly with them and encourage an upward spiral of care and respect to people and planet alike. Growing coffee and eco-responsible farming is a match made in sustainability heaven.

Deforestation doesn’t always look like the crime against nature that it is, especially when plants are replacing plants. But when you bear in mind that 50% of the planet’s animal and plant species inhabit the rainforest[1], there’s no argument; deforestation is a crime. Coffee can be planted and harvested by hand and can fetch a high price at market to pay the people who do the work.

Our prerogative is to work as part of a transparent chain and support the most sustainable aspects of the coffee industry. It is possible to produce high quality crops while supporting the farmers without damaging the environment.

At the current global rate of deforestation, it is thought that the rainforests will not exist within one centuryThat’s barely longer than a human life time for half of the world’s plant and species to become endangered. So, let’s be responsible as an industry, responsible as consumers and responsible as humans. Let’s buy coffee from producers who support the natural environment, let’s support businesses whose ethics are honest, let’s be sustainable.

Protect the forest. Protect the community. Protect life.