Sustainable Coffee Still Flying High

SC Guatemala Exports Bird-Friendly® Coffee to Japan

Since 2001, SC Guatemala has expedited the export of coffee from Mexico, Central America and Andes countries to the Japanese market, but its most sustainability-aligned coffee is its Bird Friendly® (BF) Coffee, which continues to hold its place as the standard for environmentally-conscious coffee exports from Central and South America. 

BF Coffee is organic-certified coffee grown on farms with a shade cover that provides substantial habitat for migratory and resident birds in tropical landscapes. Created in the late 1990’s by the staff of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) at the National Zoological Park in Washington D.C., the BF certification mark and seal of approval is based on ornithological research across several Latin American countries. 

Sumitomo became involved with BF coffee when Mr. Takuro Sasaki of Sumitomo Corporation in Japan visited a coffee farm in Guatemala in 2003. “The grower told me that they were planning to obtain the Bird Friendly® certification under the program established by SMBC,” Mr. Sasaki told VISIONS in 2008. “That was my first contact with Bird Friendly®. The farm was forest-like and organic so I could easily understand how the Bird Friendly® farm was environmentally friendly.”

According to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park website, the underlying rationale for these bird-friendly coffee farms is that if the habitat is there, then birds will use it and benefit from it – even if it is an agricultural setting. Many farms in Latin America meet the criteria and do provide large areas of suitable habitat for many birds.

After returning home to Japan from the coffee farm, Mr. Sasaki wondered whether Sumitomo could import this coffee to the Japanese market. “Actually, I was looking for a new concept,” Mr. Sasaki explained.  “The basic concept of Bird Friendly® is environmentally friendly. There were not many food products with this kind of concept in Japan at that time. Although there were organic products, they sounded safe and healthy rather than eco-friendly. And at this time, the Japanese were getting more interested in environmental issues. Therefore, I had a confidence that the concept of Bird Friendly® would work in exports to Japan.”

Mr. Sasaki added, “The criteria of certifying coffee organic is the same as the other organic products under the JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) organic regulation in the Japanese market. The original criteria established by SMBC requires at least 40% shade cover and at least a 12-meter-high main canopy, as well as 11 different tree species composing the shade canopy.”

Mr. Sasaki contacted SMBC and met with Dr. Robert Rice who was a research scientist of SMBC and established the Bird Friendly® program. This meeting sprung this unique and strong partnership. After six months of negotiation, Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Rice reached an exclusive agreement for the commercialization of this coffee in the Japanese market. As part of the introduction of Bird Friendly® coffee to Japanese consumers, Sumitomo joined exhibitions like the Eco-Products Exhibition and marketed the coffee to bird watchers and bird associations such as the Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ). 

“Bird-Friendly® coffee supports fair and stable prices for coffee producers,” said Lisset Morales de Najera, who currently manages the Bird-Friendly Coffee business exports for SC Guatemala, “as well as healthy environments for communities, greater biodiversity and protection for bird habitats, and equal access to markets for Bird Friendly coffee producers. 75% of the world’s coffee is farmed with practices that leave no place for birds, or worse, actively destroy forest habitat. When forests disappear, migratory songbirds disappear too. Bird-Friendly® farms are 100% organic certified — no harmful pesticides — so they are better for the people and the planet.”

Najera has kept abreast of the entire coffee processing method by continuing her coffee education through courses provided by ANACAFE Guatemala (National Association of Coffee from Guatemala).

“It is very important for me as trader and manager of food business working with green coffee exports to learn more about quality, origin, roasting level, different flavors and cupping profile that are unique to our micro-climates in Guatemala. I see this knowledge as providing a value-added service for our customers who will buy these coffees in Japan.”

Learning the process of production, harvest, wet-mill, dry-mill, packing and exportation gave Najera an even deeper understanding small-medium and large scale of producers of coffee in many countries of production.

“Every bit of our soil is enriched to give us the smell and taste of a cup of coffee that we enjoy during morning, after lunch and during dinner,” Najera said. “After diving into knowledge of the complete process, you never will be the same, because your mind changes to work for the mutual benefit, community growth and sustainable development goals for every producer that you know.”

BF Coffee is organic-certified coffee grown on farms with a shade cover that provides substantial habitat for migratory and resident birds in tropical landscapes. Created in the late 1990’s by the staff of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) at the National Zoological Park in Washington D.C., the BF certification mark and seal of approval is based on ornithological research across several Latin American countries.

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