A challenge we are all part of
Unfortunately, climate change is already a reality. This is partly due to the excessive emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. At the same time, we have a growing population and thus an ever-increasing number of people to feed. Growing crops requires agricultural land. That’s why forests are being cut down, which paradoxically increases CO2 emissions even further.
So we are faced with an almost impossible dilemma:
Are we going to save the world or feed the people?
Next to cattle feed, palm oil, soya, cocoa and rubber, coffee is the biggest cause of deforestation and thus the sixth biggest climate culprit.
But does it have to be that way? We do not mean that. In ØNSK, we believe that forest farming is a big part of the solution. And what is forest farming, you might be thinking. More on this later. We promise.
How is conventional coffee grown today and why is it a problem?
Today, most of the world’s coffee is grown in large fields without shade trees or other crops, i.e. as a so-called monoculture.
Just as monobrow means one continuous eyebrow, monoculture means one culture. Single-crop farming is a feature of much coffee farming. Here, the coffee plants stand in long, straight rows in full sun (hence the name “sun-grown coffee”). You try hard to have only one thing living and growing in the plantation. And that’s coffee. The aim is to make the coffee plants grow quickly and give a high yield.
But this way of mass production unfortunately has a number of negative consequences:
- Deforestation: large areas of forest are cleared to plant coffee trees side by side in long rows.
- Reduced CO2 sequestration: deforestation means that coffee plantations are not able to sequester nearly as much CO2 as coffee forests and shade tree plantations. How big the difference actually is, we’ll get to later (yes, it’s a cliffhanger).
- Loss of biodiversity: the lack of surrounding shade trees has a severe impact on biodiversity because many birds, insects and other species cannot live in a monoculture.
- Use of pesticides and fertilisers: due to the lack of biodiversity, pesticides and fertilisers are often used to maintain high coffee production (in increasingly nutrient-poor soils).
- Water pollution: pesticide and fertiliser residues don’t just end up in our coffee (although that’s bad enough in itself). They also eventually risk contaminating groundwater as they seep further into the ground.
- Hazardous working conditions: there are toxic chemicals in fertilisers. They pose a danger to the people working in the coffee plantation.
What do we mean by forest farming in ØNSK and why is it the solution?
Fortunately, there is an alternative to conventional coffee growing that solves many of these problems. This is called forest farming. That is, instead of producing coffee in deforested fields, coffee is grown in forests or shade tree plantations.
It is estimated that shade tree plantations sequester 30-45 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. By comparison, a conventional coffee plantation can sequester a maximum of 10 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. That is an improvement of a factor 3-4.5!
In addition, the trees create good conditions for a rich plant and animal life. The result is increased biodiversity and a balanced ecosystem. This means, among other things, that the local flora and fauna can act as natural fertiliser for the coffee plants. Guava trees, for example, have the ability to retain moisture in the soil, and when the leaves fall off and decompose, nitrogen is naturally added to the soil. The coffee plants are crazy about it.
Growing coffee alongside other crops, such as guava, cocoa or other fruit trees, also provides coffee farmers with an additional source of income. For example, Leonel has honeybees and citrus trees among his coffee trees.
By growing coffee in this way, you show far greater consideration for nature, people and animals. The fact that it also has a positive impact on the quality of the coffee is just win-win.
Is shade coffee the end goal?
If you’ve made it this far, we hope it’s now obvious why shade grown coffee is far more sustainable than conventional sun grown coffee. Today, coffee from ØNSK is grown as shade coffee, but does this mean that we have reached our goal? – No! It would be completely wrong to think so;-)
Forestry comes in many degrees. At one end of the scale we have the simple variant where a few shade trees are planted at regular intervals within the rows of coffee trees. At the other end of the scale we find the so-called “rustic” forest farming, where the coffee trees are planted deep in the forest with lots of different tree species.
Although coffee from ØNSK is grown as shade coffee, we have an ambition to move closer and closer to forest coffee and increasingly polyculture (i.e. growing several different crop species together).
Hopefully we can develop the shade tree plantations so much that we can eventually make a coffee that is climate positive. That is our great wish.