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Coffee - The ‘Green’ Sip

imageThere is nothing like a steaming cup of coffee on a cold winter day or a chilled glass of cold coffee on a  sweltering summer day, right? No wonder it is often called the world’s favourite beverage with its consumption growing annually at 6 per cent since 2000. India, Asia’s biggest coffee exporter, produced 302000 metric tonnes of coffee in 2011 and exported 70 per cent of the produce to overseas markets.

Apart from the revenue generation, coffee plantations also provide employment to many. But with so many silver linings, there has to be a cloud, right? And that is where the question arises – Is your coffee eco-friendly?

Coffee production: Environmental impact

Cropping and harvesting: Traditionally, coffee was cultivated in shady forested areas, hotbeds for biodiversity. But its surging demand has created the need to grow
coffee in a shorter span of time, leading to monocropping and sun-grown varieties. Deforestation causes soil  erosion and also results in increased use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, degrading the quality of soil and posing danger to human health. Recently, the WWF pointed out that 37 of the 50 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates are also coffee producers.

The nitrogen-based fertilisers not only contribute to greenhouse gases but also percolate to the groundwater level, thus contaminating it severely.

Processing: Coffee is processed by separating coffee beans from the harvested cherries. This process generates enormous amounts of pulp, residual water and parchment, which subsequently pollutes water bodies. The decaying pulp reduces oxygen levels in the water, killing aquatic wildlife.

And it does not end here. Once manufactured, coffee is shipped across countries. Perhaps roasted again to produce different varieties, thus increasing carbon dioxide emission and other greenhouse gases.

Turning coffee to a “green” drink

People’s love for coffee is only set to grow in the future but it should not impact the environment. Is there a way to strike a balance? Thankfully, yes. Here’s how:

Growing coffee in shade: Many coffee plantations in India already use this method. Coffee is grown along with pepper and cardamom plants in shade to ensure lower use of pesticides and fertilisers. It also  translates into reducing deforestation. Ensuring this would take care of the ecological impact. To some extent.

Rainforest alliance: Coffee producers who are members of this body, an organisation that aims to conserve biodiversity, have to adhere to ten principles set by the Sustainable Agricultural Network, which forbids deforestation. Many coffee estates such as the Tata coffee estates in south India are certified by this body.

Increasing efficiency: Higher efficiency in fertilisers, motors and transportation could reduce emissions and prevent excessive fertilisation. By using coffee husks mixed with animal manure, manufacturers can create natural fertilisers that maintain the quality of soil. They can also upgrade coffee processing systems to cut the discharge of water pollutants which harm aquatic animals.

What YOU can do

Find out more about the brand of coffee you drink and what the company does to produce “green” coffee. Although the major share of the work needs to be done by the manufacturers themselves, you can do your bit too.
It is about time – wake up and smell the coffee!

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Coffee - The ‘Green’ Sip