When people recommend drinking Fair Trade Organic coffee because it’s good coffee and equitable for farmers, there’s another argument in its favor that sometimes gets overlooked.
While Fair Trade coffee is indeed good for small farmers and their families, it’s also good for the environment. There are many reasons why, but here’s one: It can help fight back deforestation.
Here’s how: if a small farmer owns a couple of acres of coffee trees and he or she can make some decent money growing coffee – something that you can harvest every year, he or she will keep the trees and stay in the coffee business. Keeping land in small scale organic agriculture like coffee is usually good for flora and fauna (and the farmers). Getting a guaranteed fair price through Fair Trade helps keep that farmer in the coffee business. If that same coffee farmer doesn’t get decent prices and decides to get out of the coffee business, he could cut down some big tall tropical hardwood trees and sell them (kind of a one time harvest) and then move on. If you take a whole region that slowly gets out of coffee – grown in remote high elevations in rural areas (also where lots of timber grows) – then it’s easier to “liquidate resources” – the fancy word for cutting a bunch of trees down. Here’s what that looks like from the sky, in this case, Washington State. (Photo from Google Earth).
The other day I found online an aerial survey map of Indonesia that showed the forest cover areas for the entire island of Sumatra (where we buy a lot of coffee). There is a serious problem with deforestation throughout Indonesia but it was heartening to see the area where we buy coffee (and plenty of other roasters buy). It’s very green. Lots of trees. Not so much logging in that area. Not yet anyway.
The green areas are where there is forest. Red areas are industrial logging and yellow / orange are small land holder logging areas. The red arrows point to general areas where some of the finest coffee in Sumatra comes from. It’s kind of remote – maybe they don’t log because they can’t get there. Maybe enough farmers are getting by growing coffee so they don’t need to log. (That’s what I’m hoping). If it’s true what some sources say that the planet loses rainforest each year equivalent to the size of Panama, the very least we could do is reach for some more Fair Trade Organic coffee – in this case, how about some Sumatran?
Forest Loss Map - a great map from www.worldmapper.org
More information about deforestation in Indonesia.
If you use Google Earth, go here find out how to download a Disappearing Forests Google Earth Visualization (it's free, and fascinating).
Sumatranforest.org has loads of information