The benefits of shaded plantations can be separated into two categories - benefits for the environment, and benefits for the farmers. Let's look at the farmer first. A typical farmer is financially dependent on coffee profits from one or two harvest seasons annually. For starters, introducing shading trees can mean more profit. For example, many fruit trees are suitable for shading coffee trees. Arboreal apiculture is another option, which, apart from producing honey, can assist the coffee trees in pollinating. Diversity of plants also keeps a more balanced mix of nutrients in the soil, again boosting the yield of coffee.
Regarding the farmers' fear of harvesting less - that might seem true at first, but in the grander scale, shaded coffee trees have a much longer life and require less maintenance than unshaded ones thanks to reduced stress from the sun and weather, which also means smaller upkeep and restoration expenses. And even though the coffee trees may yield less kilograms of coffee, the beans maturing process is slower, and thus they grow slightly bigger and tastier and yield a much higher price on the market.
Then, there are benefits for both parties. For example, the mentioned bees do not only help the coffee trees, they help the entire ecosystem with reproduction and are one of the pillars of balance in nature. Trees are also a natural habitat for countless bird species, which, again, are a vital part of the ecosystem, but can also protect coffee trees from invasive insects.
Most importantly, the rainforest tree canopies are rightfully called the “jewels of the Earth”. About 50% of all living species on our planet call rainforests their home, with the vast majority of them residing in the canopy layer. The beauty of coffee is that it is possible to cultivate it without destroying the natural habitat of countless species or interrupting their migrational routes, all while helping keep our atmosphere in a healthy balanced state.
“Another continent of life remains to be discovered, not upon the Earth, but one to two hundred feet above it, extending over thousands of square miles of the rainforest canopy.”
- William Beebe, 1917
To be entirely fair, we should also mention the negatives. It is true that purely unshaded plantations offer greatest yields. But as we mentioned, this can be outweighed by the potentially increased quality of shaded coffee. It is thus up to the farmer to choose the path which will be the best choice for both his market goals and the environment he lives in. This is also where we step in - as the saying goes, we vote with our wallets. By choosing the right products, you can help support those farmers that help protect our planet, while still supplying you with the best-tasting coffee. And thanks to smart choices like these, we can ensure that generations that come after us can keep enjoying the same coffee and same planet as we do.