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How Much Forest Is In Your Coffee?

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The first activity that many of us do in the morning when we wake up is probably head straight to the kitchen and start boiling a cup full of water for our morning pick-me-up. That smell and taste of a good cup of freshly-made coffee are both relaxing and energizing, isn’t it? If this is how your routine weekday mornings are, let me tell you a bit more about my research.

Before It Reaches Your Kitchen Shelf

I work on global forest change, and on most days, it is a sobering job. The world loses significant amounts of forest every year, much more than it grows back. The rates of deforestation in so-called ‘deforestation hotspots’ (like the Amazon basin and in South-east Asia) show yearly fluctuations but remain alarmingly high. According to some estimates, several million hectares of forest have been lost each year over the last several years. These are forests which, if left undisturbed, would remain natural ecosystems and act as our support systems.

What’s driving these losses? Agricultural expansion to grow everyday commodities is responsible for more than a quarter of all forest loss globally. These commodities include soy, palm oil, cocoa—the basis for much of what we eat, drink and use every day. And of course, that morning cup of coffee sourced from far-flung lands.

Demand-Driven Deforestation

Across the world, coffee is grown in a variety of ways—from exclusive coffee plantations to agroforestry systems. Each system of coffee production and management practices adopted, brings with itself corresponding environmental impacts, including deforestation and biodiversity loss.

As an individual situated far away from the source, it might make you think about one’s impact on the environment. For the (Ethiopian/Brazilian/Indonesian) coffee that we consume, there are disproportionate impacts on forests in these landscapes—we lose the forest cover and with it, the ecosystem services that these forests provide at local and global scales, from livelihood generation to climate change mitigation. Additionally, for the coffee grown on land where a forest once used to stand, getting it from farm to plate has been the result of a massive global endeavour involving a complex supply chain. The maintenance of that supply chain itself may have come at a cost to the environment.

While our choices and preferences have evolved, they have been made possible by the increasing complexity of global supply chains. In this background, what remains of our individual responsibilities and agency? Could we push for alternatives that don’t harm natural ecosystems?

With increasing economic incentives for growing commodities like coffee, driven by expanding demand across the world, production is unlikely to recede in the coming years. In this context, some Indian coffee enterprises have taken the lead in advancing and sustaining coffee-based agroforestry systems with a focus on societal and conservation co-benefits.

At the same time—as intensive commodity-based systems can have environmental and social impacts—responsible and sustainable practices can have important and far-reaching co-benefits, not only for consumers at large but also for local-scale producers and communities. This is true for not only coffee but also other commodities, where responsible and certified practices can lessen impacts on local ecosystems and communities.

Before You Drink That Next Cup Of Coffee

The burgeoning trade in commodities is, in fact, driven by economic incentives and legislation. Economically, the opportunity costs of deforestation for other income-generating activities remains low (like in this case, coffee farming), meaning that the incentive for conservation also remains rather low. Ecological damages, including the lost environmental and climate benefits, are not taken into account.

Ideally, this is where governments should step in with strict legislation and effective enforcement. This is a two-way street–consumers share responsibility with governments and big business. For starters, next time you buy a can of coffee in the market or at the nearest café, do take time out time to know about its certification status. Is the coffee you’re drinking certified? If it has (or has not), what does it mean? What do these certifications guarantee to the consumer?

As consumers, we retain the power of asking some (rather uncomfortable) questions from large-scale coffee producers and sellers. Let’s own the agency we possess and make producers and governments take note!

Ultimately, one might just want to ask, “How much forest is in my coffee?

Manan Bhan is pursuing his PhD at the Institute of Social Ecology, Universität für Bodenkultur (BOKU) in Vienna (Austria). He studies the impacts of land use change on natural ecosystems around the world.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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