WASHINGTON – Most people don't associate birds with their morning cup of coffee,but scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center have discovered that the connection between the two helps coffee farmers and the environment.
In 2000,the center launched the shade-grown coffee certification program to promote the growth of sustainable coffee,meaning coffee that is viable economically,environmentally and socio-culturally,said Richard Rice,a research scientist at the center.
Coffee grown in the shade of tree canopies,rather than on land cleared of other vegetation,provides a habitat for a number of species,including migratory birds,he said Thursday in a lecture at the National Zoo.
Scarlet tanagers,Baltimore orioles and ruby-throated hummingbirds are among the birds spotted often on shade-grown coffee farms. Warblers are the fondest of good shade coffee,Rice said.
Shade-grown coffee is given the Smithsonian's Bird Friendly label if the growing conditions meet certain criteria,he said. The coffee must meet organic standards,and then canopy height,foliage cover and number of bird species,among other things,are taken into account.
The Smithsonian trains certification agencies to recognize these criteria and carry out Bird Friendly evaluations at the same time they inspect farms for organic standards,he said. Farmers volunteer for the inspection and pay nothing to the Smithsonian center. Farmers benefit by being able to charge a higher price for their coffee.
“As historical accident would have it,an awful lot of coffee that is grown meets these criteria with no problem,” he said. “There are plenty of people that grow coffee in such a way that meet these criteria.”
Nineteen farms in north and south America are Bird Friendly approved. Most are small,and owners also garner fruits,firewood,medicinal products or plants for ceremonial uses,he said.
Despite the benefits involved in the program,the Bird Friendly label has a very small niche in the American coffee market,which is dominated by mass market brands sold in grocery stores. Bird Friendly coffee makes up a small percentage of organic coffees,which account for only about 5 percent of the specialty coffee market,Rice said.
Bird Friendly,like other specialty coffees,costs a few dollars more per pound than regular coffee,and roasters give 25 cents per pound to the Smithsonian program.
Some smaller coffee roasters and businesses have adopted the product,but bigger chains such as Starbucks have not shown interest,Rice said. On its Web site,Starbucks points to efforts to get fair prices for farmers and says it buys a large quantity of shade grown coffee,but does not discuss Bird Friendly coffee.
“I think in order to get into something like this,they're probably waiting to see what the market will do,” he said.
The Smithsonian's label did find its way into the Japanese market. Last year it signed a deal with the Sumitomo Corp.,and Bird Friendly coffee will be roasted in Tokyo and Kyoto,he said.
No other organizations certify for providing good bird habitats,but one other does certify for shade-grown coffee.
Sabrina Vigilante,the Rainforest Alliance senior manager for marketing and business development,said the programs are compatible,but the Smithsonian has a stricter certification program.
“There aren't very many farms in the world that can be certified to Smithsonian standards,” she said. With the alliance,shade standards are based on continuous improvement,meaning farmers must improve farm conditions each year to maintain certification.
“The different labels out there that you can see in the American market are becoming more and more mainstream,” she said,referring to the organic,fair-trade and shade-grown labels.
Shade coffee is beginning to makes its way into the specialty market alongside organic and fair-trade coffees,but not all of it is certified,Rice said. Some companies market coffee as shade-grown but have no criteria or standards.
Rice cited Trader Joe's as an example. Trader Joe's did not respond to several telephone messages asking for comment.
The Rainforest Alliance has worked with Caribou Coffee,which has promised that,by 2008,half of its coffee will meet the Rainforest Alliance's standards.
To find a source of Bird Friendly coffee,go to: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/Coffee/B…