What it means
Coffee farms typically can cut many trees down in order to increase yields from coffee crops. “Shade grown” implies that the coffee was grown on farms that maintain tree canopy as habitat for native and migratory birds and other wildlife. Although not a replacement for native tropical forests, shade grown coffee plantations can provide the last refuge for species that are threatened by the removal of original forest cover.
But there is no common standard that producers have to meet to use the term “shade grown” on the label of a coffee product, and verification is not required.
Look for this additional information on the label:
Bird Friendly – Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
The Bird Friendly seal by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center means that the farm where the coffee was grown qualifies as “bird friendly habitat,” as defined by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. The standards promote environmental sustainability of coffee farms and protect biodiversity, with a special focus on providing shelter and food for migratory birds. Coffee farms are also required to be certified organic. The seal is verified.
Don’t rely on these claims and seals:
While there are many environmental benefits to producing coffee according to the organic standards (e.g., fewer pesticides, better soil health), maintaining shade trees throughout the plantation is not a requirement in the organic standards.
While a Rainforest Alliance seal on a package of coffee might imply that the coffee is shade grown, this is not always the case. The Rainforest Alliance standards do include minimum requirements for canopy cover on plantations of shade-tolerant crops, like coffee, but those recommendations are part of a continuous improvement system, not a “critical criterion” that has to be met for initial certification.
Why it matters
Coffee farms typically can cut many trees down in order to increase yields from coffee crops. The loss of trees and native vegetation to make room for coffee plantations means a loss of habitat for animals, including migratory birds. For many migratory songbirds and other tropical animals whose populations are declining, coffee farms with diverse tree canopies offer important habitat. Although not a replacement for native forest, shade-grown coffee can provide the last refuge for species that are threatened by the removal of original forest cover.
Studies have shown many ecological benefits of shade-grown coffee farms, including improved bird habitat, soil erosion control, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, and improved pollination.
Is there a common standard?
No. There is no common standard that producers have to meet to use the term “shade grown” on the label of a coffee product.
Is the claim required to be verified?
No. Verification is not required for producers who use the term “shade grown” on the label of a coffee product.