From: Reuters
Published May 17, 2006 12:00 AM

El Salvador Tropical Coffee Forests Threatened

SAN SALVADOR — Tropical forests that house El Salvador's famed coffee plantations and provide habitat for migrating birds are being depleted at an alarming rate, scientists warned Tuesday.

Between 2001 and 2004, the country lost 21,025 hectares of forest-covered coffee farms, Mario Acosta, president of El Salvador's Foundation for Coffee Research (Procafe), said.

El Salvador last year planted around 161,000 hectares of coffee, the vast majority of it grown on wooded plantations.

With the greatest population density and smallest land size in Central America, El Salvador was long ago cleared of virtually all its native forest. Coffee farms, where bourbon variety coffee trees flourish under a thick shade canopy, provide 75 percent of El Salvador's remaining forest cover.

"Just in the period between 2001 and 2004, we lost 21,025 hectares with the accompanying environmental degradation, with the problems this means for watersheds and all the problems of unemployment in the countryside," Acosta told reporters at the opening of a regional conference on the role of the coffee industry in the environment.

The dramatic losses took place during a sustained period of record-low coffee prices which led many farmers to abandon their land, in some cases ceding it to encroaching urban expansion.

In recent years, environmental groups have embraced El Salvador's coffee industry, noting the role it plays providing habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife.

A recent joint study by Procafe and Washington-based research group Resources for the Future, presented at the conference, found that 13 percent of El Salvador's so-called coffee forests were lost in the 1990s.

The report blamed coffee forest depletion on urban expansion, a lack of investment and renewal of coffee trees, farmer indebtedness, migration and weak regulatory oversight of land-use changes.

The El Salvadoran coffee industry shed some 70,000 jobs during the period of low prices and now employs about 90,000 people directly.

The country exported 1.3 million 60-kg bags of coffee in the 2004/05 coffee year, generating income of $164.5 million.

Despite being the country's the main agricultural export, coffee income is a fraction of the over $2 billion the country receives annually from the estimated 25 percent of its population that lives abroad, mainly in the United States.

Source: Reuters

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