Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Grounds for Change

I had no idea. Or at least I'd like to claim I didn't. According to the BBC's "Grounds for Change" coffee represents the second most traded commodity in the world. Only oil accounts for more money.

So I'm sitting here smugly drinking my Organic Shade Grown coffee from Mexico. As I'm working away, ignoring the news on the TV, the narrator starts talking about the environmental impact of the coffee industry and how it is destroying the land for the people growing it. The poorest people, already dependant on the beans they grow for survival, are deforesting their lands, loosing the rich soils to erosion, and polluting their own drinking water so that I can enjoy my morning cup.

Did you know that coffee beans get more pesticides and fertilizers used in their growth than any other form of crop? During the fermenting process the beans are soaked in water that is "toxic" by the time it is dumped back into local rivers. Acids within the coffee, plus (most of) the pesticides leach out of the beans and back into the forests.

Well, back into what used to be forests. Some forest is cut for planting space. Most goes to firewood to keep warm. Apparently 3500m up the mountain the nights get chilly. The net result is erosion, mud slides, loss of fertile land and further problems for the people.

So what does Organic help with? What's the value of Shade Grown?

Well to be organic, no pesticides or fertilizers are used. This immediately leads to less toxic waste. And in many cases, organic also means recycling and treating water. One farm cut water usage by 93% when they went organic.

Shade grown sounds nice. Mmmm, shade. But it is important for more than the bean. For starters it means that forests are not clear cut to make room for coffee. Indigenous trees are left and grow amongst the coffee plants. Advantages include reducing erosion and giving the local farmers a variety of crops to tend and earn income from. If your coffee this morning has a hint of banana perhaps you've become part of the solution.

Trees impress me. Deserts leave me dry. I've seen the dusty ruins of Greece, thousands of years after the forests were cut. I've seen poor villages in Brazil with nary a tree around; only cows roaming the hills. And now the BBC has shown me mountains sliding away taking land and homes with them as they race out to sea. Trees gone, not to provide pasture, but simply for wood so that my coffee farmer can keep his family warm at night and can cook their food.

Just a little something to think about while you sip your next cup. And hopefully something to think about the next time you buy your next pound of coffee.

Note: This is one of the first times I've ever purchased organic coffee. Nice that on this morning Grounds for Change aired. The erosion I saw on TV was mine. The shade trees that I just spent my money on have not yet been planted.


quilly said...

Morgan -- I rarely drink coffee, but from now on I will be much more careful about the coffee I drink. Thanks.

I Dive At Night said...

Quilly, oh that's very cool! Every bit of change will be appreciated.

Charline said...

Thanks Mo! No longer will I take my morning..and mid day and evening jolt of caffeine for granted. I already try to drink organic, but had never heard of shade grown As long as I can still have it accompanied by a pepper an cheese scone made at my local bakery I'll be happy!

J. D. said...

I've only recently started drinking coffee (since your Dad makes it so well). I saw that program also, a few months ago. We have some changes to make here. Thanks for reminding me. Good for you for passing the word along. Big Hugs...Mom

Theresa said...

I love coffee, and all that does make me think. We have fair trade coffee here, but it won't work in my refillable Senseo pods. If they had expesso kind, I would switch.

I Dive At Night said...

Charline, shade grown, organic, and free-trade. All good labels!

Mom, can I recommend an organic Blue Mountain?

Thesesa, can I interest you in an espresso machine? Over here in aisle 3 we have a vast selection of machines that grind the beans and automatically empty...

Minka said...

I am a senseo addict as well...but your post did reach me. I drink two cups a day. It kinda comes with the job description...bummer!

I Dive At Night said...

Penguin, the job description of "student" requires roughly 12 cups of coffee per day. And the "night-shift nursing" thing requires at least a dozen more. Two? Wow you're doing really well.