Resource ChallengeShaded coffee plantations are a simple but stable agro-ecosystem that can be an important wildlife management tool. A shaded canopy provides most of the ecological functions of the natural environment, including soil conservation, nutrient recycling, habitat for native, endemic and migratory birds, shelter for many plant and wildlife species, and buffer zones around protected areas. Most of Puerto Rico’s native and endemic species, such as the endangered Puerto Rican Boa, the Puerto Rican Vireo, the Puerto Rican Tody, and the Puerto Rican Screech owl use shaded coffee plantations for feeding, nesting, and shelter, as do Neotropical migrants that return to the continental
The benefits of shaded coffee plantations are being lost due to “sun” coffee plantations—monocultures of plants without protection from native shade trees. Without shade trees, critical ecological processes are interrupted or eliminated, resulting in loss of habitat, sedimentation, water pollution, and loss of fertile soils and productive agricultural lands.
Although most farmers prefer shaded plantations because they last longer and produce higher quality beans, government subsidies are encouraging conversion to the sun plantations, which generally produce higher yields.
Examples of Key Partners
USDI Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS, USDA Forest Service and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Puerto Rico Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Extension Service; University of Puerto Rico, Hacienda Central Pellejas Inc., Hacienda Verde Inc., Hacienda Luisa Inc., Café del Alba Coffee Co., Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, EnviroSurvey Inc., Puerto Rico Association of Conservation Districts, and hundreds of coffee growers.
Results and Accomplishments
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program is working with coffee growers in the Caribbean, encouraging them to voluntarily restore native shading canopy in coffee plantations. Specialists work with growers, explaining that although farmers get 20 percent fewer beans from shade plantations, the beans often weigh more, so the net weight is actually higher. Moreover, shaded plantations last a lifetime, while sun plantations must be replaced every eight to ten years. Finally, other crops such as bananas, avocados, and oranges can be grown to shade the coffee, producing more income.
Since restoration began in 2001, more than 1,000 acres of shaded habitat have been restored. The Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, FWS, and non-government organizations are providing the trees, as well as funds and/or technical assistance. Partnering corporations also help by promoting sustainable growing practices.