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Introducing Bird Friendly Coffee

Last month we caught up with Kirstin Hill, Bird Friendly Program Manager at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute to understand more about the Bird Friendly Certification and what it means for producers, roasters and the environment.

As 8th of October was World Migratory Bird Day, we thought it was a great time to raise awareness of Bird Friendly Coffee. We have also just gained our Bird Friendly Certification and will be exploring more coffees to add to our range.

Our first Bird Friendly Coffee from Capucas is now available. Please contact the trade team for more information. Stay tuned for more on the Bird Friendly Certification, and do reach out to us with any queries you might have!

Birth of Bird Friendly

What makes for a good cup of coffee? Fresh coffee beans, the right roast, perhaps a splash of oat milk or sugar—but what about coffee that’s good for wildlife?

Over three quarters of the world’s coffee is grown in a way that leaves little or no place for wildlife, or worse, actively destroys habitat. But, this wasn’t always the case—until about fifty years ago, coffee was grown entirely underneath the shade, embedded within native forests. But in the 1970s, coffee cultivation practices shifted from shade-grown to sun-grown monocultures as farmers eliminated trees to make way for more coffee plants that would produce faster in the light of direct sun.

This loss of habitat is particularly devastating for wildlife, given that coffee-growing regions overlap significantly with high biodiversity areas worldwide. In the 1990s, this came to the attention of ornithologists at Washington, DC’s Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, who were studying a decline in migratory songbird populations associated with habitat destruction on overwintering grounds in Latin American countries. These scientists noted that coffee farms that maintained high-quality shade were also of high value to overwintering birds. They theorized that if they could protect this habitat within the farms, overwintering migratory birds would have a greater chance of survival. From there, the Smithsonian Bird Friendly® certification was born.

Not all shade grown coffee is equal

Bird Friendly was created as a way to evaluate and distinguish coffee farms that retain important wildlife habitat as part of the land. Not only is this certified coffee deforestation free, it upholds the strictest criteria for biodiversity conservation in coffee-growing landscapes. To be certified by the Bird Friendly program, coffee producers must maintain a minimum of 40% shade coverage over their crop, have at least 11 tree species on their land with 60% of these species being native to the region, and maintain a minimum tree canopy height of 12 meters. All Bird Friendly farms are also certified as organic, meaning the coffee is grown without synthetic pesticides or chemicals that can harm the health of people and the environment.

The result is an agroforestry system whose habitat can rival that of an undisturbed forest. Smithsonian researchers evaluated farming systems in Peru and found that sun-grown monocultures could support 63 bird species; farms that maintained some trees or partial shade supported 79 different species of bird; and Bird Friendly certified farms supported 243 bird species—over four times more than a sun-grown monoculture!

But Bird Friendly farms protect more than just migratory birds—amphibians, insects, and small mammals have been proven to benefit from these practices, as well. Bird Friendly certified farms are also better for the climate, as trees act as important carbon sinks while simultaneously making the land more resilient to severe weather events like floods and heatwaves associated with climate change.

Bird Friendly agroforestry practices have a number of benefits to producers, as well. Shade trees improve water quality, enhance soil fertility, decrease erosion, and attract pollinators and animals that consume pests. Each of these benefits acts as a cost saving measure to producers.

Many Bird Friendly producers also generate secondary sources of income from the trees they maintain on their land, selling products from the coffee forest like timber and fruits. In addition to these benefits, approximately two-thirds of all Bird Friendly coffee produced comes from Fair Trade certified farms.

Today, the Bird Friendly program certifies nearly 45,000 acres of coffee-growing land in 13 different countries, producing around 38 million pounds of coffee annually. This coffee is shipped to Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, where it’s roasted to perfection by a community of over 50 Bird Friendly licensed coffee roasters. For a coffee to be labelled as Bird Friendly, it must be 100% pure— meaning that every bean in a bag or cup of Bird Friendly certified coffee is grown in a way that protects wildlife habitat. For coffee aficionados, Bird Friendly coffee tastes better, too! Coffee berries grown in the shade take longer to ripen, resulting in a richer and more complex taste.

How can you support Bird Friendly Coffee?

It’s never been easier to become a supporter of Bird Friendly coffee—for coffee drinkers, it’s as simple as looking for the Bird Friendly logo when purchasing your next cup or bag of coffee. Roasters and importers interested in buying and selling Bird Friendly coffee can easily join the Bird Friendly program by submitting an inquiry to birdfriendly@si.edu. All that’s required is a licensing agreement and, for roasters, a pennies-on-the-pound remittance for use of the Bird Friendly name and logo. Farms interested in becoming Bird Friendly certified can also reach out to the Bird Friendly program at the same e-mail address to connect with an auditor and schedule a farm inspection.

Choosing Bird Friendly coffee is a simple, yet impactful way to support the one in ten bird species globally that utilize habitat on or near Bird Friendly coffee farms. Make the switch and join the growing movement to Drink Bird Friendly today!

Bird Friendly Program Overview (2022)
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Bird Friendly Coffee at a glance.