Your Morning Cup: Now with More Trees



A coffee farmer works with tree seedlings in Chiapas, Mexico. Starting on National Coffee Day (September 29), Starbucks will donate 70 cents (the cost of a tree) to Conservation International for every bag of coffee sold at participating stores in the U.S. and Canada — funds that will provide trees directly to coffee farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia and Mexico. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

From Bambi Semroc


I came to work in conservation through my love of trees.

These days I spend most of my time thinking about the future of a tree that many people love, even if they don’t think about it very much: the coffee tree.

The irony is not lost on me that I don’t actually drink coffee, though I’m definitely in the minority on this: Globally, people drink 600 billion cups of coffee every year. With US$ 22 billion in global sales, coffee is the world’s most traded tropical agricultural commodity.

The reason that coffee trees consume so much of my time is that the potential environmental impact of coffee is huge: Coffee is currently grown on roughly 11 million hectares (more than 27 million acres, an area of land about the size of Cuba) in 50 countries. Much of the anticipated growth in coffee demand over the next 10 years will take place in forested areas — thus driving deforestation — unless more sustainable production methods that increase productivity on existing farms are introduced.

The impact on people is no less important. At the heart of the coffee trade are 25 million small-scale farmers who produce 90% of the global coffee supply. These farmers and the workers they employ rely on the revenue from coffee sales to support their families. In fact, women are active participants in smallholder production, especially in the washing, drying and processing of coffee beans.