Friday, May 13, 2005

Coffee production and environmental protection

There is an interesting article on the BBC News web site about coffee plantations providing protection for wildlife and the environment in El Salvador. The essence of the article is that appropriate coffee production techniques produce a profitable coffee crop and provide habitat which allows certain kinds of wildlife to flourish:

Chris Wille of the Rainforest Alliance, a US-based non-government organisation, explains: "The country has lost all but about between 2% and 5% of its original native ecosystems, but a good healthy 10-15% is still forested with coffee.

"So it's coffee farms that are providing the last refuge for wildlife, that are protecting the watersheds, that are buffering and extending the few parks; and that are conserving the soils and importantly providing firewood to the rural population, 80% of which depends on firewood as their chief source of energy."

But coffee growing in El Salvador is under threat as the uncertain world price for the product makes many farms uneconomic.

Everywhere you go, signs advertise "lotificacion" - the sale of plots on abandoned coffee plantations which give way to housing or shopping malls close to the cities, and more destructive forms of agriculture such as cattle-grazing or open crops like maize or sugar cane.

The hope is that by certifying coffee growers who observe strict rules on environmental protection and working conditions for their employees, these businesses will be better able to compete in the volatile international marketplace.

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