For some, Jamaican coffee is a staple. Whether it helps you wake up at the crack of dawn or it complements your afternoon doughnut, the world seems to run on coffee. Unfortunately, Jamaican coffee has been in decline for years. But there just might be hope for Jamaican coffee farmers and lovers, in the surprising form of birds.
Two major pests harm coffee plants: the coffee berry borer and the coffee leaf miner. However, these insects are also preyed upon by birds who, by eating the pests, save farmers between $200 and $500 per hectare every year in pesticides. That is, since the birds take care of the bothersome insects, farmers no longer have to spend the money they would otherwise allocate for pesticides.
"Birds can reduce damage by coffee berry borer by fifty percent in Jamaica," said Humboldt State University wildlife biologist Dr. Matt Johnson.
Additionally, because birds can replace pesticides, this coffee can be marketed as bird-friendly or organic, which can in turn be sold at a higher price than coffee protected by pesticides.
"The more you encourage birds into your coffee, the better yields you're gonna get from your coffee trees," said John Fletcher, former president of the birds conservation group Bird Life Jamaica and director of the shop Coffee Roasters. Like Johnson, Fletcher attests to the benefits of having birds on coffee farms. Fetcher further suggests that planting trees among coffee can be beneficial. In addition to attracting birds, trees planted among coffee produce fruit and timber, which are a source of income when coffee is out of season. Trees also improve soil fertility, lower air and soil temperatures, and reduce wind damage. Moreover, they can act as fire breaks, thus potentially sparing coffee crops in the event of bush fires.
Government reports show that coffee production, including Jamaican coffee, has been in decline for over four years for reasons including drought. Some farmers have ultimately ditched coffee production for cash crops, in hopes of better financial results.
However, there is hope in attracting birds to coffee plants for farmers. The Smithsonian Institute is one institution that has been studying the relationship between birds and coffee for years, and such studies can be a great thing for coffee farmers, offering a glimpse of light into a seemingly dark landscape.