Shade-grown coffee has been at the center of a watershed management program that is working to protect some of Puerto Rico’s most stunning coral reefs.
Run by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the sun-to-shade coffee initiative has involved the planting of more than 32,000 coffee trees on more than 750 acres in the Guánica Bay/Rio Loco watershed. The idea is to reduce the amount of runoff entering the bay, about 100 miles west of San Juan, while simultaneously assisting landowners and farmers in the region to produce sustainable, shade-grown coffee that adds to the biodiversity of the watershed.
Puerto Rico USDA State Conservationist Edwin Almodovar recently profiled the program on the NRCS blog, where he wrote:
Transitioning from growing sun-grown coffee to shade-grown coffee provides many benefits.
For one, the shade in shade-grown coffee is provided by native nitrogen-fixing trees, which add nitrogen to the soil, helping reduce the need for fertilizer as well as the farmer’s costs.
Shade-grown coffee helps reduce sedimentation and storm water runoff because the trees help keep the soil in place and, in turn, more water can soak into the soil, recharging the island’s aquifers. The shade and fallen leaves also reduce the need for pesticides, since both help suppress weeds and fungi.
All of these outcomes help protect the water quality of Puerto Rico’s streams and lakes, as well as where they ultimately drain—the bay, home of the corals.
There are additional benefits to shade-grown coffee. The trees provide valuable wildlife habitat and coffee grown in shade has higher yields plus farmers don’t need to apply as much water because the soil retains more water.