Shade-grown Coffee Benefits Birds and Farmers by Michelle Gee (E’20)

by PriyankaK
Oct 21

Through IGL's summer remote opportunities program, I had the opportunity to work with the NGO Asociación Por Guate and alumna Anamaria Vizcaino (A07) to write a grant for a bird conservation project in Guatemala. Guatemala is home to 17 endangered bird species, many of which are threatened by habitat loss due to deforestation1. Between 1990 and 2000, Guatemala lost 17 percent of its forest habitat and continues to lose more at a staggering rate2. Deforestation is mostly caused by agriculture. . However, as of 2014, nearly 50 percent of Guatemala’s population lived below the poverty line and they still have to depend on agriculture to survive.

While Guatemala’s deforestation and poverty issues may seem to be competing interests, shade-grown coffee has the potential to kill two birds with one stone. Shade-grown coffee prevents deforestation because it requires foliage cover that birds and other animals live in as opposed to sun-grown coffee, which requires clearing the forest. The added advantage is that these family-owned coffee farms will have a sustainable business model, since sun-grown coffee prices fluctuate making it frequently unprofitable

We will implement the outreach workshops to educate coffee farm staff on the importance of shade-grown coffee for bird conservation on Fincas Esperanza and Rosario Pecul, which are Guatemalan coffee farms owned by Anamaria and her family (For coffee connoisseurs, you can find their coffee here). The farms are home to over 125 bird species, including the endangered Horned Guan, which has an estimated population as low as 1,0004. The area the farms are in lack environmental education and a culture of sustainable farming, which makes finding farm workers that will follow best practices for sustainable coffee cultivation difficult. The workshops aim to help workers understand how their work will provide habitats for birds and other animals. Eventually, we plan to expand these workshops to help other farms in the area convert to shade-grown coffee with the goal of simultaneously reducing deforestation and poverty.

This project has shifted my perspective from solving a narrow technical problem in a textbook to contextualizing the big picture of the problem within global trends like climate change and poverty to arrive at a more nuanced solution. I studied chemical engineering at Tufts, so I am used to focusing on technical solutions. However, many good technical solutions often have social ramifications that engineers do not always consider (for example the inventor of k-cups regrets inventing them because they are disposable plastic that ends up in landfills5). I have been lucky enough to work with Anamaria, who has a much broader perspective and has pushed me to see how my small project on bird conservation fits into the intersection of the larger issues of climate change and poverty. IGL has provided me with a global perspective on social issues which I will need as I move on from Tufts to pursue my graduate studies.


Alumna Anamaria Vizcaino provided this remote internship.



  1. BirdLife International (2020) Country profile: Guatemala. Available from Checked: 2020-08-03
  2. Eitniear, Jack, and Knut Eisermann. “Status and Recent Sightings of Ocellated Quail.” International Journal of Galliformes Conservation, vol. 1, 2009, pp. 85–93.
  3. “The World Bank in Guatemala.” The World Bank Accessed 3 Aug.
  4. BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Oreophasis derbianus. Downloaded from on 28/07/2020.
  5. Wallace, Gregory. “Inventor of K-Cups Regrets the Idea.” CNN, 2015,