Shade grown, Organic, Fair Trade: how do they relate?

by JulieCraves on February 3, 2006

If it’s certified Fair Trade…

Much of the coffee certified Fair Trade in the U.S. (by TransFair USA) is also “shade grown”, although the volume is often overstated.  However, Fair Trade certification itself has no shade and few ecological requirements; see this post for details. Organizations that certify shade grown coffee are the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and, in many cases, the Rainforest Alliance.

Nearly all of the coffee certified Fair Trade in the U.S. is also certified organic (various organizations provide organic certification). Those Fair Trade certified coffees that are not also certified organic are often passive organic.  For example, they are still required, under Fair Trade certification, to use integrated pest management (which cuts down on use of chemical pesticides), and Fair Trade farmers also use other soil and water conservation measure which help preserve biodiversity. In the Fair Trade system, certified organic coffee receives a per-pound premium, a strong incentive for farmers to go organic.

If it’s certified organic..
It’s likely to be Fair Trade as well. Over half of all organic coffee is Fair Trade certified.

Sun cultivated coffee relies heavily on chemical inputs of fertilizer and pesticides to produce successfully. Organic coffee is very difficult to grow without the presence of shade trees to provide habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and other organisms; to provide natural mulch; to aid in nutrient cycling; and to help in weed suppression.  Therefore, if coffee is organic, it is more likely to be shade grown, at least to some degree. While certification varies, organic coffee is usually grown completely free of synthetic chemicals, and have been for at least three years.

If it’s shade grown…
It is always also certified organic, if it has Bird-Friendly certification. Rainforest Alliance certified coffees have no organic requirement, and other “shade grown” claims that lack a certification are anybody’s guess. Read about shade grown certification here.


Fair Trade, organic, and shade-grown.  The three work can together to protect the environment, biodiversity, and the economies of small farm cooperatives and coffee growers.  It is very important that the labels don’t just say organic or shade-grown, but actually show a certification label. There are many coffees on the market today that are “triple certified.”

See our Guide to Coffee Certifications page for a ton more information.




Revised on December 21, 2018

Posted in Background information,Certifications

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