Free Trees Give Costa Rican Coffee Farmers a Double Shot

Costa Rican coffee farmers are planting 10,000 free trees as part of an initiative to tackle climate change launched by Canadian company World Tree. The specially selected Empress Splendor trees provide much-needed shade for their organically grown coffee and a new revenue stream for the farmers.

World Tree chose the Empress Splendor for planting because it is the fastest growing tree in the world (source: The Guinness Book of World Records). Within just 6 months, the trees can grow 10 feet or more, providing critical protection for the coffee plants which need shade for optimal growth.

The Empress Splendor trees not only create shade for the coffee, they also provide a second revenue stream to farmers. The trees grow so fast that they can be harvested for lumber within 7-10 years. They produce a valuable lightweight, straight-grained hardwood that can be used for finishings, furniture, veneers, sailboats, surfboards and many other applications.

World Tree takes a hands-on approach, helping the farmers manage and grow the trees, providing ongoing education, and finally brokering the sale of the lumber. Half of the revenue from the sale of the wood is given to the farmer. When the tree is harvested, it re-grows from the stump and will continue to provide both shade and income to the farmers for 50 years or more.

In Costa Rica, shade-grown coffee plants are twice as productive as sun-grown and consistently yield higher prices for their higher-quality beans. However, farmers sometimes struggle to find the best trees to plant. For example, the eucalyptus tree has a shallow root system that competes with the coffee plant. Another popular choice is the poros tree, however farmers complain that it requires a lot of maintenance.

The Empress trees not only protect the coffee, but their deep root systems also bring nutrients and water to the surface of the soil to feed the coffee plants.

“I’ve heard that the Empress Splendor has many benefits for the environment and for us as coffee growers,” says Mauro Solis, a farmer participating in the program. “The carbon capture is important for our sustainability, and we are also very happy to get the benefit of extra income in 10 years.”

The project is backed by Canadian investors who want to offset their carbon footprint. The exceptional growth rate and large leaves of the trees makes them carbon sponges, absorbing 11 times more carbon than any other tree. When the trees are harvested they re-grow from the stump continuing the cycle of carbon sequestration.

“These trees are amazing,” says company founder, Wendy Burton, “They are not genetically modified, they are non-invasive and respond well to the organic farming methods used in Costa Rica.”

The coffee farmers have embraced the program, which has received the support of Juan Luis Chaves, the mayor of Naranjo, one of the most important coffee growing regions in Costa Rica. They have also been planted by Coopedota, known by coffee lovers worldwide for their Dota coffee.

“I am happy to think not only about the benefit that I can experience here on my farm, but also the bigger benefit, the change that we can do for the world,” remarks Solis.

World Tree has been promoting the properties of the Empress tree since 2002 and launched their Carbon Offset Program in 2015. This year they have planted over 50,000 trees with farmers in the United States, Canada, and Costa Rica, which will offset over 2 million tons of carbon over the next 50 years.

The ‘Free Tree’ program is expanding next year with World Tree aiming to plant more than 300,000 trees. They are currently looking for farmers with suitable land. Information is available in both English and Spanish on the World Tree website (

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