According to this BBC report (via Eco-Portal), coffee plantations in El Salvador are serving as a last refuge for many wildlife species, as forests in the tiny country have been decimated. But these plantations are now threatened by development, so the Rainforest Alliance has stepped in to develop “an eco-friendly coffee label will help to prevent the mountainous landscape from being stripped bare of its remaining habitats.” According to Chris Willie of RA,
“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.
While the initial reticence of some growers in the area to accept “outside help” is understandable, it’s great to see that a partnership is developing that can provide economic and environmental benefits. As a confirmed coffee addict, I’m glad to see my habit can lead to something good…