Coffee itself is an incredibly diverse crop, being grown in varied landscapes around the world. As the world’s population grows, so does demand for industrial agriculture, which has been a contributor to declining biodiversity. Against this background, it is increasingly important for the coffee sector to understand the potential impact and effects of its activities on ecosystems, as well as how best to mitigate them.
The negative impact of coffee on biodiversity increases with more intense farming techniques1, however less intensive methods, such as shade or forest grown coffee, can make positive contributions to local biodiversity2. These techniques refer to growing coffee with other crops, bushes, and trees – providing benefits for soil health, vegetation and insects, birds, and mammals that live in the area3.
Numerous studies have been conducted into the animals whose natural habitat falls in and around coffee farms. For example, the possible benefits of shade-grown coffee to encourage thriving bird populations4,5 or the benefits of bee pollination in diverse landscapes surrounding coffee plantations6.
It is important that the presence of these animals is maintained for the benefit of the environment as well as coffee farmers. For example, a higher local bird population may naturally regulate coffee pests as part of their diet – reducing the need for potentially harmful pesticides7.
Different coffee varieties can also themselves naturally be, or be bred to be, resistant to pests, disease, and climatic factors such as temperature changes8,9. For example, Ethiopian wild Arabica coffee can have natural resistance to coffee berry disease. Liberica may be a viable option for regions where climate change threatens the ongoing viability of traditional Arabica or Robusta coffee crops10, for example through hotter, harsher conditions or increased rainfall.
Ongoing international projects11 are working to catalogue, protect, and enhance the genetic diversity of coffee but more can still be done. A 2019 study led by researchers from the Royal Botanical Gardens in the United Kingdom, found that 60% of the 124 known wild coffee species are currently threatened with extinction12. Furthermore, 28% of wild coffee species are not known to occur in any protected areas, highlighting that greater conservation efforts can be dedicated to protecting the diversity of coffee. Despite numerous sector- and academia- led initiatives, there is a need for further collaboration to protect and leverage the genetic diversity of coffee and the environment it is grown in.
The ongoing push for greater biodiversity is aided by the increasing recognition that the world may be approaching a tipping point in terms of environmental sustainability. For biodiversity, this is reflected by the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)13, adopted by 188 countries in 2022, the EU Directive on Biodiversity14, as well as movements, such as ‘Nature Needs Half’, pushing the need to set aside resources to restore the planet and its natural biodiversity15. Policies, such as the UK's Biodiversity Net Gain16 and the EU's Green Deal17, may impact sourcing decisions. We have also already seen coffee producing regions, like Costa Rica18 or Brazil19, making firm individual commitments to protecting their natural resources through local policy.
When managed in the right way, and with key considerations such as biodiversity and other ecological factors, coffee has the potential to enhance the landscapes it grows in. ISIC remains devoted to supporting, disseminating, and strengthening the evidence base around the impact of coffee on biodiversity and the role of farm ecosystems on local conditions.
The carbon footprint of coffee refers to the sum of greenhouse gas emissions and removals through its entire lifecycle and their contribution to climate change − from the coffee farm all the way to consumption and end-of-life.
The term ‘agrochemical’ refers to all chemical products used in agricultural production. This includes plant protection products designed to prevent, eliminate, or control pests, as well as mineral fertilizers intended to enhance crop growth and productivity.
Agroforestry is one of a number of agricultural techniques used to reduce the environmental impact of coffee growing by boosting natural carbon sequestration and local biodiversity. This technique works by interspersing coffee trees among other trees that may or may not have commercial value.