Attitudes and knowledge of shade-coffee farmers towards vertebrates and their ecological functions [PDF]. 2009. P. López-del-Toro, E. Andresen, L. Barraza and A. Estrada. Tropical Conservation Science 2:299-318.
The authors of this study interviewed 36 Mexican shade coffee farmers regarding their knowledge and resultant perception and attitudes of the wildlife on their farms. Farmers were members of a cooperative, and some of them had also attended environmental workshops, which included wildlife-related topics, sponsored by the cooperative. In general, this study found that:
- All farmers liked having birds on their farms, and they were viewed positively.
- Farmers thought most snakes were poisonous, and only a third knew they ate rodents and/or could be beneficial in pest control.
- Most farmers had a very utilitarian view of non-flying mammals (everything from squirrels to ocelots), being largely indifferent except towards those used for food.
- Bats were the least understood, with most farmers not knowing what bats feed on or what ecological role they fulfilled.
- Most farmers knew that seed dispersal was an important ecological function, and identified birds as seed dispersers. Few knew mammals could also disperse seeds.
- Few farmers perceived pollination as being important, or understood the process well.
- Farmers that had attended educational workshops gave an
“environmentally friendly” answer to questions for the majority of the
questions, compared to the farmers who had not. The authors acknowledge this could either be due to what the farmers learned in the workshops, or inherent interest or knowledge by the farmers attending, since the sessions were voluntary.
These results are not particularly surprising, but serve to illustrate a point. I think most First World coffee drinkers, if they think about coffee farmers at all, envision a Juan Valdez-like farmer. There is some romantic notion of the peasant who lives close to the land, full of indigenous knowledge and in tune with nature. This study presents something much closer to reality: for the average small coffee farmer, the land is there to support a family. The flora and fauna have to aid in that goal. There are no field guides or textbooks (or, in many cases, the level of literacy to comprehend them). No binoculars or microscopes.
These are the people we expect to conserve and protect tropical biodiversity for us. We think they should grow their coffee a certain way, without cutting down trees, using chemicals, or harming animals. Further, we would like them to pay someone to prove this to us, by way of some type of certification. And we’d like them to do this with little or no compensation.
There is no such thing as “cheap coffee.”
Coffee farmer by Neil Palmer (International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CIAT).
López-del-Toro P., Andresen, E., Barraza, L., & Estrada, A. (2009). Attitudes and knowledge of shadecoffee
farmers towards vertebrates and their ecological functions. Tropical Conservation Science, 3 (2), 299-318.