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“Bird Friendly® Coffee” helps protect migratory birds and the environment

Updated March 2017

What is Bird Friendly® Coffee?

Did you know that you can do something to conserve the global environment simply by drinking a cup of coffee?

Bird Friendly® Coffee is coffee grown in forest-like settings—"agroforests"— where migratory birds rest. Did you also know that there is a program that identifies such farms and aims to conserve the global environment through the purchase of the coffee produced there? This is the Bird Friendly® Program.

This environmental conservation program aims at preventing the destruction of forests and protecting migratory birds that rest there by rewarding farmers with the Bird Friendly® seal, allowing growers to enjoy a price premium for organic coffee grown in the shade of native tropical trees (shade-grown coffee). Under the Bird Friendly® Coffee program, a portion of the revenue generated is used by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to conduct research and protect migratory birds across the globe as well as implement other environmental protection activities, as a way of paying back consumers of coffee.

The Sumitomo Corporation Group has been supporting in the Bird Friendly® Program since 2004 (Honduras)

Working for the revival of the bird-friendly shade-grown method

Hummingbirds, warblers and other migratory birds are not the only wildlife that inhabit tropical forests. Biological diversity in general is enhanced by a shaded system, which provides habitat for insects, snakes, reptiles, orchids, and other species. The shade trees also absorb CO2 and help preserve water quality. The coffee plant evolved with the blessings of forests, so growing coffee in farms utilizing forests can in fact be said to be a traditional and sustainable farming method.

However, in some regions, trees that provide shade are being cut down, since more coffee can be produced and picked—sometimes even with the aid of machines in large plantations, thus lowering farming costs. On Bird Friendly® certified farms where forest-like shade is preserved, coffee is grown organically (organic certification is a pre-requisite for Bird Friendly® certification) and handpicked. It is difficult to maintain such a laborious farming method without deep consideration for nature and the global environment, as well as the support of consumers. This is why we need to support agroforestry based on the shade method in order to protect migratory birds. It is necessary to establish coffee traceability using the certification system so that consumers are free to select coffee from certified farms.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which founded this program, created a set of standards for a seal of approval for farms that meet certain criteria. The program was launched amid a serious decrease in the number of migratory birds that travel between North America and Latin America. The alarming situation prompted the Smithsonian Institution to research and observe migratory birds, which led to scientists to discover the birds were using the traditional shade-grown coffee farms in Latin America as rest stops. Based on this knowledge, the Institution established the Bird Center, and launched the Bird Friendly® certification program in 1999 with the aim of promoting sustainable coffee production.

Migratory birds need to be protected by supporting agroforestry whereby coffee is grown in the shade of trees. Currently 27 farmers and farm organizations in 12 countries, including Guatemala, Colombia, and other Latin American countries, are certified as Bird Friendly®, having met the criteria.

Indigenous Mayans diligently cultivating coffee (Guatemala)

Farmers picking beans

Certification criteria for Bird Friendly® Coffee

Certification criteria for Bird Friendly® Coffee

To be certified as Bird Friendly® farm, there are roughly two core criteria that must be met. One is that the coffee is grown organically. This is friendly not only to birds but also to people. The other is that the coffee is shade grown in a natural forest setting.

It has set original criteria for shade growing methods: the canopy (of the shade trees) must display at least 40% foliage cover when looking skyward from within the agroforest, and trees must be comprised of 11 or more species. There are also criteria for the height of shade trees, namely that 60% should be "middle" trees (12m and taller), 20% should be "tall" trees (15m and taller) and 20% "small" trees. In short, the "architecture" of the farm's shade cover should resemble a natural forest. The certification criteria for Bird Friendly® are simple but strict, and for that reason are known as the "gold standard" -the best available benchmark- for coffee certification in the United States.

Migratory birds have actually been observed resting on Bird Friendly® certified farms. SC Foods Co., Ltd, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporetion is committed to the expansion of the Bird Friendly® program, under an exclusive contract with the Smithsonian Institution, the mother body of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

The Bird Friendly® Coffee program is an environmental protection scheme in which all coffee drinkers can take part. We will continue to care for and enhance the global environment, with a cup of good coffee as a starting point.

Bird Friendly® Coffee Approval seal

  • The Bird Friendly® program commended with a special prize in the 5th Contest for Corporate Activities on Biodiversity

  • Bird Friendly® Coffee also sold in drip packs and paper beverage containers

Related Tag

  • Media, ICT, Lifestyle Related Goods & Services Business Unit
  • Guatemala / Colombia
  • Food Products
  • Environment

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