Research: Coffee certification and bird conservation in Ethiopia

by JulieCraves on February 12, 2009

Ethiopian coffee cultivation — Implications for bird conservation and environmental certification. 2008. A. D. Gove, K. Hylander, S. Nemomisa, and A. Shimelis. Conservation Letters 1:208-216.

Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris), a shrike relative that favors shrubland found almost exclusively in the farm plots.

This is probably the first peer-reviewed paper specifically about coffee growing/shade coffee and birds in Ethiopia. It reveals that the relationship between coffee management and bird diversity is different in Ethiopia than it is in Latin America, where shade coffee criteria were developed, and these differences need to be taken into account in certification criteria.

The study took place in southwestern Ethiopia near Bonga, where coffee is harvested from within existing forests, and also grown in mixed systems with other crops under isolated shade trees. The study area is a mosiac of forest and agriculture, and authors compared birds present in 19 forest sites with 19 farm sites — all representing a range of tree and coffee densities.

Many of the 106 bird species recorded were found in both the forest and farm plots, but forest bird assemblages were distinct from those found on farms.

The Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) is a woodland species that was found in both farm and forest plots, but more often in forest.

Tree density on farms had a positive influence on the number of forest and woodland bird species. In this way, coffee cultivation, with its associated shade trees, improves habitat for birds by increasing
habitat complexity in these largely open degraded lands. The
coffee plots with their isolated tree patches would not qualify as “shade coffee” under most current criteria. But since coffee is native to Ethiopia, even these little plots could be considered rehabilitation of cleared land. Further, although isolated, the shade trees in coffee farm plots acted as “stepping stones” through inhospitable habitat, and, if plots were abandoned, as valuable sources of seeds that could regenerate forests. The authors concluded coffee cultivation on these small farms was a plus for bird habitat.

On the other hand, most of the forest plots would qualify as shade coffee under current criteria, which emphasize canopy structure. However, it is not uncommon for forest plots to be manipulated for increased coffee density; these plots had complex canopy but simplified understories. This change in forest structure decreased the number of bird species. Encouraging this type of “shade” coffee farming would actually have an overall negative impact on birds and bird habitat. These situations need to be taken into account in future certification schemes in Ethiopia, and perhaps elsewhere in Africa.

A forest specialist, the African Hill Babbler (Pseudoalcippe abyssinica) was found nearly exclusively in forest plots.

Finally, the authors emphasized that “Ensuring that coffee farmers receive a reasonable price for the commodity is perhaps most important.” Under low prices, farmers anticipate clearing forest for cereal, corn, or khat crops, or large government-sponsored sun coffee farms, threatening habitats of all types.

Top: Common Fiscal photo by Lip Kee. Middle:  Red-chested Cuckoo photo by Johann du Preez. Bottom: African Hill Babbler photo by Veli Pohjonen, East Usambara Conservation Area Management Programme,

A. D. Gove, K. Hylander, S. Nemomisa, A. Shimelis (2008). Ethiopian coffee cultivation — Implications for bird conservation and environmental certification. Conservation Letters, 1, 208-216.

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Revised on July 30, 2011

Posted in Research on coffee growing

Amber Coakley February 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Thanks for this information!

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