Introduced by the French to the New World in the 1700s, coffee has been grown in a traditional manner for hundreds of years. In such a system coffee, a shrub, is grown under a canopy of trees. The tree canopy provides many services for the coffee farmer:
The trees mimic the natural forest so that up to 70 percent of the birds found in a natural forest also live in shade-grown coffee plantations.
In the 1960s, efforts were made to technify coffee, to maximize production using modern agricultural techniques. In such a system the shade canopy is removed and coffee shrubs are more densely planted. Agrochemicals are added to fertilize and to control pests.
Traditional (left) and Technified (right) coffee
Technified coffee can increase yields, but also increases costs: it needs more laborers plus the cost of agrochemicals. Also, the coffee farmer is at the mercy of the price of coffee, there are no other agricultural products to fall back on, as in a traditional farm, if the price of coffee drops.
This article summarizes the information in this publication:
Rice, R.A. 1999. A Place Unbecoming: the Coffee Farm of northern Latin America. The Geographical Review, 89: 554-579.
This article examines recent transformations of the coffee landscape of northern Latin America through the optic of "place as process." As coffee became the most important regional export crop, its "place" evolved. Coffee lands in northern Latin America now embrace 3.1 million hectares, often contiguous across international borders. Like many agricultural systems, coffee has succumbed to intensification, a process termed "technification" in the Latin American setting. The result is a landscape mosaic in which a traditional agro-forest coffee system coexists with coffee lands transformed by modernization. The institutional forces behind this process, as well as some of its social and ecological consequences, are discussed.
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