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Sheffield 99 Friday, 17 September, 1999, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Biodiversity-friendly coffee to help El Salvador
By BBC Science's Corinne Podger

El Salvador is hoping to protect its wildlife and plants by charging a 5% premium for "biodiversity-friendly" coffee, grown in the shade of native plants.

Festival of Science
But it must be proven that this method of cultivation really does help maintain biodiversity, which is why scientists at the UK's Natural History Museum, like Dr Alex Monro, have been cataloguing hundreds of species on El Salvadorean coffee farms.

Coffee is a major cash crop for much of South and Central America. Traditionally, coffee shrubs were grown under the shade of trees, but the arrival of pesticides and intensive farming methods in the 1970s led many countries to switch to clearing land and growing their coffee under full sun.

But not El Salvador. Years of civil war left the old methods intact and now the country is seeking to exploit the benefits of its "environmentally-friendly" coffee.

Growing the coffee under the shade of trees and other shrubs provides an unlikely haven for birds, insects and rare plants.

American interest

El Salvador's Ministry of Agriculture is now in negotiations with the international coffee community to charge a premium for its "biodiversity-friendly" coffee.

Dr Alex Monro, speaking at the British Association's Festival of Science in Sheffield, UK, said: "There's been a lot of work on birds. About 400 species have been recorded from shade coffee farms.

"In the United States already, 10% of the coffee market is for biodiversity-friendly coffee which specifically protects migratory birds.

"Americans are very keen bird watchers, and so they're very keen to support the birds which they see in their country in the summer, which during their winter are actually living in Central America. For for them there's a very tangible benefit to buying that coffee," said Dr Monro.

If El Salvador is successful in being able to charge more for its coffee on the world market, Dr Monro said coffee farmers from other Latin American countries like Guatemala have expressed interest in using shaded coffee production. And that, he says, could help protect what remains of South America's forests.

See also:

28 Aug 99 | Americas
05 Aug 99 | Science/Nature
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