Cafeology cultivates bird-friendly coffee

Cafeology cultivates bird-friendly coffee

Cafeology places a deep-seated respect for nature at the heart of its coffee-sourcing activities. Cultivated under the shade of tropical canopies, its new Bird Friendly coffee is farmed in a way that protects the Guatemalan rainforest, encourages migratory birds to flourish and improves growers’ livelihoods.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world – after oil – with more than 5m tonnes produced each year. However, growing coffee conventionally damages the environment, affecting nature’s ability to deliver the vital products and services upon which we depend. Coffee farmers in tropical regions often clear large areas of forest to cultivate crops in the sun, accelerating the growing cycle and increasing yields at the expense of local wildlife habitats.

This has a serious effect on the species of birds that can make their home in the forest, according studies by the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Birds Center (SMBC), a not-for-profit organisation that has developed the first certification for bird-friendly coffee.

Inspired to help raise awareness of this issue and create more demand for shade-grown coffee, Cafeology set out to source a fully traceable, environmentally friendly coffee for the UK market in 2014. The result is its Bird Friendly coffee. Grown by the GUAYA’B Co-operative on the forested slopes of Guatemala and certified by the SMBC, this single estate Arabica coffee is organic, Fairtrade and shade-grown. It is also the first coffee to be endorsed by the RSPB, the UK’s largest conservation charity.

This new venture was by no means Cafeology’s first encounter with sustainable coffee sourcing. Founded in 2003 by Bryan Unkles, the company has long adhered to strong ethical and environmental principles. Central to its approach is finding suppliers who share its values and forging long-term relationships. Bryan and his business partner, Andy McClatchey, have visited all of Cafeology’s growers, from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Colombia to Kenya, and sought to understand their needs. The Cafeology team supports their suppliers in many ways, including bringing them to the UK to highlight the commercial potential for sustainable coffee, and making financial donations to local education and healthcare initiatives.

In 2014 Bryan visited the GUAYA’B Co-operative to see firsthand how its bird-friendly practices help to preserve tropical forests and provide a healthy habitat for birds. Importantly, he learnt that the farmers must be re-certified every three years in order to retain their “bird-friendly certified” status. Meanwhile, the premium prices they obtain for bird-friendly coffee is invaluable in supporting their families and boosting local economies.

Cafeology’s Bird Friendly coffee stands out. It has achieved a state described by the Smithsonian Institution as “product purity”, meaning that it is not diluted or mixed with other non-certified coffees.

It is 100% organic, avoiding the need for harmful chemicals, and grown under a tropical canopy that provides enough shade for wildlife to flourish. The beans achieve a richer flavour by being allowed to mature slowly in the shade. Farmers also protect water sources and reduce carbon emissions by farming the forest with respect, allowing other precious commodities (including cacao and spices) to thrive.

And the success of bird-friendly-certified coffee is measurable. Research by the SMBC in Peru shows that while a sunny plantation harbours just 61 species of birds, this number jumps to 243 when coffee is cultivated under a canopy of ten tree species or more.

The Guardian judges commented that Cafelogy has gone “above and beyond” to protect natural capital, adding that its biodiversity and soil protection activities are real examples of how individual coffee companies can set an example for the whole industry.

Most of the bird-friendly coffee produced globally is sold in America, with small volumes in Japan, Holland and Canada. In the UK, Cafeology sells to wholesale and retail customers, making a donation from the sale of every 250g tin to the RSPB. It is increasingly seeing interest from large retailers keen to add a premium coffee to the saturated Fairtrade market.

While Cafeology faces an availability challenge, with few producers committed to achieving the bird-friendly certification, there is reason for optimism. As demand increases, so will the awareness of the scale of the commercial opportunity here. In the past ten years, the SMBC has seen the area of land given over to cultivating certified bird-friendly coffee grow nearly fivefold.

This article was originally published on the Guardian Sustainable Business site.