Coffee, that savior of the underslept, comes with enormous environmental and social costs, from the loss of forest habitats as woodlands are converted to crops, to the economic precarity of small-scale farmers whose livelihoods depend on the whims of international markets.
Coffee, that savior of the underslept, comes with enormous environmental and social costs, from the loss of forest habitats as woodlands are converted to crops, to the economic precarity of small-scale farmers whose livelihoods depend on the whims of international markets. Now, thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $979,720, Timothy Randhir, University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of environmental conservation, and David King, of the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, will embark upon a five-year effort to make Honduran coffee sustainable across environmental, economic and social fronts.
The research, which is part of a $3.4 million collaboration between UMass, Tulane University, the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, centers around one question: “How can we make sustainable agriculture and forest conservation actually pay for itself?” asks King.
The answer lies in what Randhir has previously called “a convergence approach,” which is a way of tying the ultra-local—such as the work done by the small Honduran coffee planters with whom the team will work—to the global both socially, economically and environmentally. About 70% of the world’s coffee is produced on working landscapes at high altitudes on formerly forested land, primarily by small-scale, family farms in low- and middle-income countries. In many of these places, coffee production is the principal source of economic activity, yet conventional methods of coffee production combined with yield and market volatility have resulted in interlinked problems of environmental degradation, economic hardship and social crises.
Read more at University of Massachusetts Amherst
Image: Martim Murillo measures water quality of Rio Jacagua, assisted by Farlem Espana. (Credit: David King)