Shade coffee farmers attitudes towards wildlife

by on August 27, 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgAttitudes 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.


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Revised on October 27, 2010

Posted in Research on coffee growing

Hank Roberts August 27, 2009 at 11:42 am

Thank you.
Maybe we need "science coffee" — sending education and some basic science tools to the farmers, along with the money for the coffee. I'd pay to do that.

Julie September 2, 2009 at 3:37 pm

The farmers often tend to stick with what was taught to them by their fathers…this was a source of frustration to a gringo coffee farm manager I spoke with in Nicaragua who was trying to teach farmers in his cooperative some straightforward management techniques. He said the resistance to change was very strong, even when farmers were shown how Method A brought about Result B.

As for learning about wildlife, we found farm workers liked learning "our" names for birds. We'd point out a bird, show them a picture in a field guide, and tell them what we called it in English and also in Latin, and they'd tell us their name for it (some were pretty generic, or covered all species that looked similar). In general, they were often amused by our enthusiasm, or our rusty Spanish. Because the verbs are similiar, we told a couple fellows that Baltimore Orioles swam in our neighborhood, rather than "nested" in our neighborhood. They got a laugh out of that!

Michael September 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I thought this was interesting. I guess they have been growing coffee the same way for generations, and there is probably no reason to change.

I like the idea that they are learning about the benefit of the animals on their farms, and I hope they can coexist with them.

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