Blogging bird and coffee research

by JulieCraves on February 18, 2008

At the Partners in Flight 4th International Conference

Wearing my occupational hat as an ornithologist, I just attended the Partners in Flight (PIF) conference in south Texas. PIF is a consortium of conservation agencies and organizations that partner to conserve birds — the emphasis is often on migratory landbirds. Because these birds do not recognize human boundaries, cross-border cooperation is a hallmark of PIF.

Coffee in the paper sessions
The first day, I attended a full-day symposia on conservation projects in Central America. Several described the identification of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Each speaker identified “sustainable agriculture” and “promotion of high-value cash crops” as a priority means of conserving these key bird conservation sites. Maps of the regions all showed IBAs which included areas whose primary land use was coffee production.

Another researcher looked at whether shade coffee might be a threat to forest birds. She examined whether chickens, always a familiar site wandering around in diverse farms in the tropics, could harbor disease that is passed on to forest birds. The chickens in her study did harbor various signs of diseases (though at a much lower level than “industrial” fowl), and some species of forest birds also showed evidence of exposure to them. However, there was no sign that there was increased mortality or an effect on population, since contact between chickens and forest birds was pretty limited.

The highlight of the meeting for me was an entire morning devoted to a dedicated shade coffee symposia, led by Robert Rice of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. I have written up the abstracts on the papers presented (download as a Word doc), and will incorporate this information in future posts.

Here I’d like to mention a theme that popped up in much of the research and dominated the discussion section: the importance of forest fragments in coffee farms and coffee-growing regions in general.

There was wide agreement that remnants of forest in or adjacent to coffee farms were vital to the preservation of biodiversity. These can be more important than the managed shade on the farm, especially if shade trees are sparse or of only one or a few species.  A researcher from Costa Rica talked about how many farms there planted small plots of sun coffee and used forested strips (planted or natural) as windbreaks. A Colombian researcher said that in some regions there was so much cloud cover that coffee could not be grown under any type of canopy, but the forested patches owned by the farmers harbored many forest birds. Neither of these farm types would qualify for shade certification, but the forest fragments were critical refugia for birds and other fauna.

The question that arose was how could farmers be rewarded for preserving these patches? And what if they did not own adjacent forest, such as protected areas owned by the government? So many tropical parks are “protected” only on paper, and local people do not see the benefit in a hands-off approach. Could there be away to provide incentive for stewardship of these forests as well, by incorporating that into shade certification criteria as well?

Other certification challenges were discussed as well, but I will leave some for future posts.

As I have written about before, Cerulean Warblers are a declining migratory species often associated with shade coffee, and they have been the subject of several papers. Both the American Bird Conservancy and their Colombian partner ProAves have booths in the exhibit hall. I have written about their efforts to preserve Cerulean Warbler habitat, including shade coffee farms, and their Cerulean Warbler Conservation Coffee. This coffee has been sold out for quite awhile, but they now have a new crop which has just been roasted by Thanksgiving Coffee Company, the roaster partner in this worthy endeavor.

And, yes — this conference only served sustainable coffee. Caffe Ibis is the exclusive provider, and all participants were told to bring their own mugs! Randy Wirth, co-owner and roaster of Caffe Ibis, gave a talk about his work in sustainable coffee, from visiting many of his sources (often multiple times), and his tireless work with both consumers and the coffee industry to promote and inform about sustainable coffee. We have many similar ideas about this issue, and I hope to have an opportunity to interview him for C&C some time in the future.

Look for other news and thoughts coming out of the PIF conference in future posts!

Revised on November 24, 2020

Posted in Research on coffee growing

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