Ethiopian Shade Coffee Is World’s Most Bird Friendly

A new study found high biodiversity on traditional coffee farms.

Ethiopian coffee farmer Awol Abagojam and his son Isaac harvest their product near the village of Choche, much the same way their ancestors did a thousand years ago.Photograph by Ami Vitale, Panos
Ethiopian coffee farmer Awol Abagojam and his son Isaac harvest their product near the village of Choche, much the same way their ancestors did a thousand years ago.Photograph by Ami Vitale, Panos

By Brian Clark Howard
National Geographic
February 4,2015

Shady coffee plantations in Ethiopia, where coffee has been grown for at least a thousand years, hold relatively more forest bird species than any other coffee farms in the world, new research shows.

The research suggests that traditional cultivation practices there support local forest bird biodiversity better than any other coffee farms in the world.

In Ethiopia, coffee is traditionally grown on plantations shaded by native trees. These farms boasted more than 2.5 times as many bird species as adjacent mountain forest, according to a study slated for publication February 11 in the journal Biological Conservation.

“That was a surprise,” says study co-author Cagan H. Sekercioglu, a biologist at the University of Utah and a National Geographic Society grant recipient. Further, “all 19 understory bird species we sampled in the forest were present in the coffee farms too, and that just doesn’t happen elsewhere.”

Other studies have shown that shade coffee farms provide better bird habitat than full-sun plantations, but the effect may be more prominent in Ethiopia because farmers there tend to use native trees instead of the exotic species popular elsewhere.

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