Bird Friendly® Coffee (BFC) is the world’s most stringent shade-grown standard for coffee production, requiring that coffee is both organically grown and meets specific shade-grown criteria developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) at the National Zoo in 1997 to protect migratory songbirds. These birds are not only beautiful and sonorous, but are essential to the global ecosystem, providing flower pollination and seed dispersal, among other roles.
BFC carries a seal of approval (logo) that assures consumers that all the coffee in the bag is organic and has met the Bird Friendly standards. The criteria include: a minimum canopy height of 12 meters; a species list of at least 10 trees in addition to the major or “backbone” species; at least 40 percent foliage density; and three strata or layers of vegetation that provide structural diversity. Criteria apply to the coffee production area itself and are considered by industry and certification specialists to be the strictest shade standards in the world, ensuring a claim of “shade-grown” is true.
The benefits of Bird Friendly coffee production
In many tropical regions where migratory birds have overwintered for millions of years, BF coffee provides viable, quality habitat in areas often devastated by deforestation. Of the more than 150 species of songbirds that migrate to the Neo-tropics (American tropics) each year, including orioles, tanagers, warblers and thrushes, many use these certified forest-like farms as their habitat during their months spent there. These farms also support important resident birds like toucans, becards, wood creepers, and parrots.
Aside from the obvious aesthetics of their singing and striking plumage, migratory birds provide a number of “ecological services.” They pollinate flowers, disperse seeds, and feast on insects. In both SMBC and other studies of birds in coffee, research has shown that they consume a wide variety of insects, some of them coffee pests.
Growers certified to the BFC standards normally see price premiums of 5 to 10 cents per pound in addition to the premium they already receive for being certified organic. The SMBC receives royalty payments from roasters (more than $450,000 since 2000) that go to an SMBC fund used for research and education related to migratory birds in general and the coffee connection specifically.
The market for Bird Friendly coffee
According to a September, 2011 report by Dr. Robert Rice, coordinator of the Bird Friendly program, approximately 1,400 producers managed more than 18,000 acres (7,600 hectares) of BFC area/coffee farms and produced more than 9.7 million pounds of BFC in 2010, a 39 percent increase from 2009. Guatemala ranked first in terms of production (with 28 percent of all BFC), and, with Peru (25 percent), Mexico (20 percent), Nicaragua (15 percent), and Columbia (8 percent), the five countries account for 96 percent of all the BFC certified globally. The remaining 4 percent came from Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Venezuela. Farms in Nicaragua brought that country into the BFC program in 2010. Efforts are underway to gain BFC in Africa, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Sales of BFC rose 166 percent from about $1.5 million in 2005 when Japan entered the program to more than $4 million in 2010. Volume sold in 2010 was 466,000 pounds, up 3 percent from the 452,000 pounds moved in 2009, a reflection of the general economic times. Projections for 2011 are on track to equal or slightly exceed the sales of 2010.
Roasters globally are finding ready markets for Bird Friendly® coffee among consumers with interests in organic products in general and coffee that serves as viable habitat for birds and other organisms in particular. The volume of BFC roasted and sold in the US between 2000 and 2010 increased more than 115-fold from fewer than 2,000 pounds to 225,000 pounds. The three years from 2007 to 2010 saw an average of 25 percent annual increase in volume roasted and sold in the North American market, a growth mirrored globally as well.
Today, there are 44 roasters in the U.S., Canada, The Netherlands and Japan that carry Bird Friendly® coffee imported by 16 companies. Certifications are conducted by 13 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-accredited organic certification agencies.
Given the increased awareness of the importance of protecting migratory songbirds in addition to farmers and the environment in general, as well as the interest of many roasters in getting double or triple certified to different standards that attract different consumers, SMBC estimates that sales of Bird Friendly® coffee will continue to grow into the future.
See www.si.edu/smbc for more information.
Sandra Marquardt is president of On the Mark Public Relations, which provides media outreach, event coordination, and research services on behalf of the organic food and fiber sectors. Dr. Robert Rice is the coordinator of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly coffee program at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.