27 May, 2015

On birds Fairtrade and sustainability

Cafeology 2
by Bryan Unkles, founder and director of Cafeology Ltd

I started Cafeology just over 10 years ago. 

My inspiration for the business came during a trip to a coffee roaster in Holland, where I was introduced to the Max Havelaar Foundation – an organisation that licenses the use of the Fairtrade Certification mark on products in the Netherlands. This piqued my interest in starting a company with similar ethics in the UK, and so Fairtrade formed part of Cafeology’s foundations.

The business’s strong ethics have helped to form what is now the sustainable ‘heart’ of Cafeology. Sustainability not only runs throughout the core of our business activities but also drives us to look for partners who share the same values, evidenced by farms that use sustainable practices.

We are extremely proud that this has recently been recognised by The Guardian Sustainable Business Awards. In April 2015 our Bird Friendly coffee project was awarded the Innovation Award in the Natural Capital category, which awards an organisation that is ‘trailblazing a strategy to appropriately account for the value nature provides it with.’

Our mission is ambitious – to source and create demand for a fully traceable, environmentally friendly Fairtrade coffee for the UK market whilst raising awareness of the harm coffee production can have on ecosystems. 

Growing coffee can drive global deforestation of tropical forests and adversely affect biodiversity. Research has revealed that more than 104 million hectares of the world’s remaining Intact Forest Landscapes - an area three times the size of Germany - were degraded from 2000 to 2013. Coffee farming has contributed to this with the destruction of shade-grown plantations to cultivate in the open. This increases yields by maturing plants more quickly in the sun at the expense of habitat and biodiversity. 

What is more, studies by the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Centre (SMBC) in Washington, USA, have found that the diversity of migratory birds plummets when coffee is converted from shade to sun.

Our coffee is organic and 100 percent Arabica, produced by the Guaya’b Cooperative in Guatemala, and the first to be exclusively endorsed by the RSPB, the UK’s biggest conservation charity.

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The Bird Friendly certification ensures tropical ‘agroforests’ are preserved and migratory birds find a   healthy haven. Coffee farms must be re-certified every three years to ensure they continue to meet requirements.

The organic label means managing a healthy soil base and refraining from using any harmful pesticides. This helps reduce the billions of pounds of chemicals injected annually into natural ecosystems and results in better tasting coffee, which achieves rich flavour from beans maturing slowly in the shade. 

Farmers also protect water sources for their communities and sequester carbon by managing the forest-like system, which provides a host of other products like cacao and spices. The premium prices they fetch for Bird Friendly coffee supports their families and local economies.

 Choosing Bird Friendly coffee has demonstrated measurable success. Work by SMBC staff in Peru found that a sun plantation harbours 61 species of birds, whereas adding shade trees of a single species resulted in 179 bird species observed in the plantation, but when a diverse shade tree canopy (ten species or more) is managed over the coffee, the bird species jumps to 243, reflecting the increase in biodiversity.

The unique Bird Friendly certified coffee embodies our motto; ‘100% ethical in everything we do’.

We have striven to develop and improve our ethical, environmental and sustainable attributes, including finding, meeting and sourcing coffee and tea from Fairtrade certified producers around the world. My business partner Andy McClatchey and I have visited all of Cafeology’s coffee and tea growers, from Guatemala and Costa Rica to Colombia, El Salvador and Kenya to personally forge long-term relationships.

These close relationships are vital if we want to ensure farmers’ income security and agricultural sustainability, and allow them to command a fair market price for their product.


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