The Truth Behind Coffee and Chocolate Production

July 11, 2022
min read
Holly keeNAN
Environmental journalist
Outdoors enthusiast


On average, 400 billion cups of coffee are drunk every day in the worldwide. Before the coffee has reached the consumers, it has to be transported halfway across the globe.

If it were possible to grow coffee in Europe, this would drastically cut transportation emissions, but coffee requires a very particular climate. Farmers must produce coffee in subtropical areas like Ethiopia, Colombia, and Brazil.

In 2018 Europe imported a staggering 3 million tonnes of coffee from abroad, spending a total of $7.8 billion on that product alone. 

Nevertheless, transportation is not the main reason why coffee production is bad for the planet. Rather, the farming techniques used to grow coffee make it so destructive. There are two methods used to grow coffee beans: Sun-grown and shade-grown.

Sun-Grown Coffee Beans

In the 1990s, coffee farmers started using sun-grown methods to farm their coffee, realising they could produce a higher yield. This method entails cutting down trees and plants to create space to grow the coffee bean trees.

The trees grow much faster due to exposure to direct sunlight. Unfortunately, this method requires fertilisers as the soil dries up and cannot provide the trees with the nutrients they need to survive.

The combination of chemicals, water usage, and soil depletion are the fundamental reasons sun-grown coffee is devastating for the environment. Sun-grown coffee has already destroyed 2.5million acres of forest in Central America. 

Shade-Grown Coffee 

Alternatively, Shade-grown coffee farms utilise different types and heights of trees to create an ecologically diverse and responsible environment. A shaded coffee farm can imitate a natural forest, allowing many different varieties of birds, plants, and insects to thrive. The birds can act as natural pesticides deterring the harmful bugs from destroying the coffee plants. 

The best way to find out if your coffee has been grown in an environmentally responsible way is to look out for certificates such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certified. If the food product has these certificates, it will show up when you scan the food product using Palau. These NGOs are helping to fight deforestation and work towards environmental, social and economic sustainability in the agricultural sector. 


Similarly to coffee beans, cocoa beans also need to be grown in tropical zones, with most imported from Western Africa. There is an unprecedented amount of people consuming chocolate each day. According to WWF, Americans consumed 50 million pounds of chocolate on valentine’s day. High demand means farmers need to grow cocoa quickly and efficiently to keep up with the competitive market. 

Like coffee farming, Farmers use monoculture techniques to grow Cocoa plants. This type of farming has massively accelerated deforestation. Like coffee beans, it produces higher yields. However, this success is very short-lived and is known as the ‘stash and burn’ technique. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have lost between 80-95% of their forests since 1955s. 


Nevertheless, with the help of organizations such as The Sustainable cocoa forum, cocoa agroforestry systems are returning to Western Africa. Agroforestry farming systems encourage forest conservation and diversification of plants and trees. This biodiversity is crucial to ensure nutrient-rich soils and diverse wildlife. 

There is no denying that sustainable farming methods require more effort from governments and NGOs. It requires educating farmers on new ways of farming that will only produce higher yields in the long term and not in short.

However, as the demand for environmentally friendly products increases, governments, companies and manufacturers will be forced to put more funding in to build a more sustainable agricultural system.


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