Organic coffee is coffee produced without the aid of artificial chemical substances, such as certain additives or some pesticides and herbicides.
The meaning of "organic"
Many factors are taken into consideration when coffee is considered for "organic" certification. For example, the coffee farm's fertilizer must be 100% organic. Some organic fertilizer options include chicken manure, coffee pulp, bocachi and general compost. If inorganic fertilizers such as synthetic nitrogen, phosphate, and potash are used, then the crop grown cannot be certified organic.
In the US, organic coffee crops are overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA agents travel to coffee production sites to certify them as organic according to national standards. Although these standards discourage the use of chemicals on cropland within three years preceding the harvest in question, exemptions can be made. This means that not all USDA certified organic products are necessarily free of chemical residues.
Meanwhile, the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) focuses on the production of coffee after the harvest. OFPA regulates the use of chemicals on the product and how the coffee beans are handled throughout the production process. Regulations are not necessarily stringent; the former vice-chair of the U.S. National Organic Standards Board has stated that "Organic labels are not statements regarding the healthiness, nutritional value, or overall safety of consuming such products" (Liu 333).
According to the center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education in Costa Rica (CATIE), 75% of the world's organic coffee comes from Latin America. The world's primary producer and exporter of organic coffee is Honduras. Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are also major coffee producers.
Organic coffee production is generally on the rise in Latin America. As of 2010, about 10% of one-time organic growers had given in to conventional production due to price competition. However, this trend is reversing as consumers increasingly demand organic goods and investors step in to supply loans with manageable interest rates.
To be sold as organic in the U.S., imported coffee must gain organic certification. Among other standards, this includes meeting the following requirements:
- The coffee is grown on land that wasn't exposed to synthetic pesticides or other prohibited substances for 3 years prior.
- A sufficient buffer exists between the organic coffee and the closest conventional crop.
- A sustainable crop rotation plan is in place to prevent erosion, the depletion of soil nutrients, and to naturally control for pests.
The effects of organic coffee on the environment
Organic agriculture can strengthen the natural environment's resistance to disease. For example, coffee of this standard is generally shade-grown, a quality that promotes forest preservation. Other benefits of this process include the minimization of soil erosion and participation in a healthy ecosystem. Bird populations develop mutually beneficial relationships with coffee fields, enjoying the habitat while keeping insect populations under control and naturally fertilizing the soil.
Small-scale farming can have an enormous impact on soil remediation. Organic coffee helps soils even though, "1/3 [of] farmers had problems obtaining organic fertilizer[s]". Many would-be organic farmers lack the funding to establish environmentally friendly fertilizers to help their coffee grow at competitive rates. The prices that farmers get for their coffee may vary drastically (3021).
Organic fertilizers are a huge factor in dictating whether coffee can be certified organic. Organic fertilizers can reduce soil erosion and increase fertility by lowering bulk density. This means that farmers are not only growing healthy coffee, but they are putting vital nutrients back into their soils to help the next crop. The coffee plant has a vital nutrient it produces — coffee pulp. Coffee pulp is the outside of the plant that can be salvaged and returned to the soil as an organic fertilizer. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the major nutrients that coffee plants need so by using the coffee pulp, cattle manure, bocachi and compost, and chicken manure and biogreen, farmers are able to supply those essential nutrients to the plant cheaper.
Prices of organic fertilizers vary widely. Because transportation costs are usually a primary hindrance, sourcing nearby fertilizers is almost essential for success. Organic fertilizers are cheaper in the long run because they replenish lost nutrients in the soil and thus helps future generation organic coffee plants.
The problem with organic fertilizers is, "there is poor synchronization of nutrient availability and crop demand, as organic fertilizers release their nutrients slowly and not necessarily at the times when nutrients are required by crops". This means that growing organic coffee is slower because the nutrients take time to release, thus slowing the growth rate of the plant. Using inorganic fertilizers permits faster growth of plants because it is modified to sustain a larger yield. Inorganic fertilizers must be bought, brought onto the farm, as opposed to say recycled manure of cattle or chicken. Even though it must be bought, farmers are able to use less inorganic fertilizer because it is more concentrated than organic, but in the long run organic helps the soils and is healthier. Even though organic fertilizers are less expensive than inorganic, consumers see a higher price with organic coffee. Environmentally-conscious consumers may be willing to pay this premium.
North America and its consumption of organic coffee
The Organic Trade Association reported that organic coffee imports to the United States and Canada dramatically increased by 29% from 29,484 tons to 36,741 tons between the years of 2006 and 2007. Between 2007 and 2008, organic coffee imports increased to 40,370 tons, a growth of 12%. Most of these imports were also sold within the United States and Canada.
Due to organic coffee's higher value (it has the greatest value of any organic import in North America) than that of conventional coffee, it only takes up approximately 3% in volume of North America's coffee market, yet its piece of the market concerning value is slightly greater than that of conventional coffee. Organic coffee accounts for about one-third of all U.S. organic beverage sales.
- Liu, Chenglin. "Is 'USDA Organic' a Seal of Deceit?: The Pitfalls of USDA Certified Organics Produced in the United States, China, and Beyond." Stanford Journal of International Law. 47.333 (2011): 333-378. Print.
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