NEW YORK (EMBARGO DATE: April 24, 2003, 2 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time) -- How's this for a bitter aftertaste? Cheap coffee, the kind that comes in industrial-sized cans, may be contributing to the loss of tigers, elephants and rhinos living half a world away, according to a study by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, published in the journal Science.
The study says that increased production of robusta coffee, the inexpensive variety commonly sold in cans and used in instant coffee, is leading to deforestation of lowland forests in Indonesia, home to that country's last remaining populations of wild tigers and other species. Falling coffee prices worldwide has led to the need for more production, which in turn has resulted in more forest being cleared, even in national parks.
According to the study, the spike in coffee production can be traced to 1989, when international coffee agreements ended and the U.S. left the International Coffee Organization (ICO), an international cartel formed by the U.N. to balance supply and demand and ensure fair prices. What followed was a free-for-all that resulted in oversupply that cut worldwide prices in half. Ironically, long-term trends of consumer prices in the U.S. continue to rise.
In recent years, Indonesia's coffee production has jumped. Between 1996 and 2001, land cleared for coffee increased by 28 percent in Lampung Province, the heart of the country's robusta coffee region. Seventy percent of Lampung's coffee production occurs inside and adjacent to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, one of a few remaining strongholds of Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses, all of which are declining due to fragmentation and loss of their forest home.
The authors say that the U.S. can play a key role in halting this wave of deforestation. As the leading consumer of robusta coffee the U.S. should reassert itself as a strong member of the ICO, and call for certification programs to make coffee more wildlife-friendly. In November, 2002, Congress passed joint resolutions promoting a global strategy to address the coffee crisis. Consumers can do their part by purchasing "green" coffee that is certified and provides a fair price to farmers.
"If we do not act soon, our next cup of java may have the bitter taste of extinction," said the study's lead author, Dr. Tim O'Brien of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Materials provided by Wildlife Conservation Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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