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Coffee and Biodiversity Conservation in
El Salvador

The shade coffee farm of La Giralda in La Libertad, El Salvador currently has 196,000 ha (or 9% of the country) under coffee cultivation, about 95% of which occurs under varying degrees of shade.

El Salvador is a country where extreme environmental degradation has taken place. Only 2% of original forest cover remains under natural conditions, and the majority of remaining lands are degraded or eroded because of unsustainable land use practices

El Salvador has approximately 10% forest cover, of which over 80% is natural, or cultivated shade cover, for coffee. Shade coffee farms are therefore fundamental to the conservation of biodiversity in El Salvador. A fact reflected in the prominent role coffee farms play in the National Biodiversity Management Plan and in El Salvador's contribution to the Central American Biological Corridor.

Coffea canephora Pierrre ex Fr–hner with ripe berries growing in a shade cofee farm.

A native Erythrina sp. flowering in a shade coffee farm located in the crater of Volcán Chinameca.

Coffee (Coffea arabica L. & C. canephora Pierrre ex Fr–hner) is native to Africa where it grows as an understory shrub or small tree. It was introduced to Latin America in the early 18th Century, where it was grown in the understory of natural or cultivated forest until the 1970s, at which time agrochemicals, new varieties of coffee and a fear of coffee leaf rust disease, resulted in many farms cutting down their shade forest and growing coffee in the open sun. This enables coffee plants to be grown at a greater density yeilding bigger crops. It also means that the relatively species diverse shade-forest associated with shade coffee is lost. The loss of such forest has impacted not only on biodiversity at the local and regional scale, but on the global scale with, for example, the loss of habitat for North American migratory birds. Environmental services, such as water table management, reduction of soil erosion and risk of land-slides are also lost.

During the 1980s, a civil war caused some plantations to be partly or completely abandoned. Owners in conflictive zones hesitated to invest in the application of agrochemicals. Thus, the war aided the adoption of organic management practices in El Salvador. According to CLUSA, today there are 2,000 hectares of certified organic coffee, and another 2,000 hectares of organic coffee in transition to being certified (certification requires 3 years since the last application of agrochemicals).