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T 1.05 Shade

This photo is from a farm in Hambella in the Guji zone. Green Buyer, Toby Harrison from Condessa who took this photo tells us, ‘They have cleared a natural forest leaving the larger part of the canopy, growing several improved varieties of Ethiopian Landrace.’

The last two decades have seen increases in the land area devoted to shade-grown coffee, but at the same time, non–shade-grown production has increased almost exponentially. ‘Shade-grown’ now describes around 24 percent of the land used for coffee. This amount is down from 43 percent in 1996 (Shalene JHA et al., 2014). Yield-focused government incentives have been the driver for the widespread adoption of full-sun farming over the past two or three decades. Coffee research institutes created in the 1970s and 1980s (e.g., Procafe in El Salvador, Anacafe in Guatemala, ICAFE in Costa Rica, and IHCAFE in Honduras) promoted the reduction or removal of shade cover (Staver et al., 2001).

There is some controversy around the subject of shade. A disconnect exists between conservationists looking to maintain biodiversity and the viewpoint of yield-driven government incentives, aimed at increasing farmer prosperity. However, the literature points towards a happy medium here. A broad review of the literature on coffee-yield potential by Soto-Pinto et al. (2000) states,

‘Studies … have predominantly revealed that intermediate shade levels (approximately 35%–50%) produce the highest coffee yield, which is probably because of the balance maintained between optimal temperatures in shaded environments and optimal photosynthetic rates in unshaded environments … Because coffee yields are typically assessed independently of yield from timber, other crops, or ecosystem services, it may be difficult for governments and conservation institutes to weigh the benefits of diversified farming approaches.’

A set of trials conducted by Vaast et al., (2005) in Costa Rica compared coffee cherry yields for plants grown under full sun with those grown under 45% shade over three seasons.