The current issue (summer 2006) of the Nature Conservancy magazine has several articles on the poverty and conservation equation. When I posted on “What is Fair Trade?” I wrote,
Worldwide, habitat destruction is the leading cause of bird population declines and loss of biodiversity. The link between poverty and environmental degradation is inescapable. Making sure that coffee farmers receive a living wage is one way to help preserve habitat — both by encouraging sustainable coffee farming methods that produce the highest quality coffee, and by empowering farmers economically and reducing their need to exploit the environment for survival.
These points are expanded upon in the Nature Conservancy pieces. They give an example of coffee farming in the Dominican Republic:
Today, the farmers in this idyllic mountain community [Los Dajaos] in the Dominican Republic’s central highlands no longer denude the hillsides to plant beans and graze cattle. Instead, they tend organic shade coffee beneath a canopy of flowering guama trees. … After once clearing thousands of acres of habitat critical to preserving biodiversity and the island watershed, they have come to view the forest as a friend.
These articles surely help elucidate why sustainable agriculture is important to biodiversity, and it’s not hard to understand how sustainable coffee — as one of the world’s top commodities — can fit into this equation.