Shade-grown crops in the tropics reduce pesticide use and erosion, protect watersheds, and provide habitat for birds and other animals. Shade coffee and shade cocoa farms have a long history in Venezuela, and produce some of the best in the world, but are at risk of being lost in Venezuela’s current turmoil. Finding ways to value these traditional practices right now brings benefits to communities, to birds – and to coffee and chocolate lovers!
In the future, one place we can reintroduce Red Siskins is on shade coffee, cocoa and other nature-friendly farms, near large areas of suitable protected habitat. Farmers are working with us now to become certified as Bird Friendly habitat according to Smithsonian standards, which are some of the strictest in the world. Farmers are looking forward to the premium prices their certified crops are worth, and their farms will not only serve as safe habitats for the Red Siskin, they will also help many other species.
In the mountains on the north-central coast of Venezuela, farmers in Piedra de Cachimbo are working with RSI to become certified as bird-friendly. We aim to increase farmer incomes through certification, via workshops and training activities, and to produce locally grown, high-quality coffee. 45 farmers have joined the project, and we hope to have 160 hectares certified by the end of 2019!
In Guyana, the South Rupununi Conservation Society is the most important RSI partner. Our collaboration has led to over $70,000 in grants to date for conservation and biodiversity studies. We are currently working to expand our agroforestry program to communities in the South Rupununi of Guyana. Find out more here: From Red Siskin Science, New Paths and Opportunities in Guyana.
Birds and Coffee
In 2017, thanks to funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI) we started a project to preserve the Critically Endangered Venezuelan tropical dry forest, which serves as habitat for the Red Siskin, for migratory birds and many other species. One project activity is the shade-coffee certification described above.
In 2017, in partnership with Mantuano Chocolate and Café Arábica, we began producing a Special Edition Chocolate bar, made with the finest certified organic cacao and organic coffee produced on shade-crop farms in Red Siskin habitat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is funding a project to help participating farmers become Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certified, and the package was designed by the Venezuelan fashionista Titina Penzini. This chocolate is now on sale exclusively at gift shops at Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. Are you a retailer who would like to help us expand distribution?
Other achievements: So far, we have identified 237 resident bird species and 8 migratory species in Piedra de Cachimbo, the first complete bird list for this area. We completed the first vegetation inventory for the project in the study area and have identified 12 to 18 tree species suitable for shade crops.
In Venezuela, 80 producers have now trained in good shade-farming practices with us, as a major step to obtaining specialty coffee certification. Ten of our fourteen training workshops were delivered in the focal Piedra de Cachimbo area. These producers also learned about Red Siskin conservation and are eager to provide protection for this species on their farms, as well as other birds, once reintroduction takes place.
In December 2019, 39 UP obtained organic certification under the standards of USAID and the European Economic Community. 13 of these 39 UPs obtained the Bird Friendly certification following the standards of the Smithsonian Institution.