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Teaching Coffee Farmers About the Birds and the Bees

The University of Georgia is a respected research university. Thirty-five thousand students attend the main campus in Athens, Georgia, and extended campuses around the state. And among its areas of research is agriculture. UGA has a center in San Luis de Monteverde in Costa Rica. This center is for students and visitors who want to learn more about farming and living in environmentally friendly ways.

Some students take a class called "Coffee: From Bean to Cup." Coffee is Costa Rica's most important agricultural product. Professor Valerie Peters teaches the class. Her students help her study coffee farms in an area called Finca la Bella. Farmers in this area agreed to grow their coffee sustainably, using methods that do less harm to the environment.

Most coffee farms in Costa Rica have one or two different kinds of trees to help shade the coffee plants from the sun. In Finca la Bella most farms have at least twenty kinds of trees. Many of the farmers have also planted more flowers. When there are more flowers and more kinds of trees, more bees will come to pollinate the coffee plants. Coffee plants can pollinate themselves, but bees help increase the harvest.

Professor Peters is working with her students to help teach farmers about the importance of bees and having more trees and flowers. She says, "Many of the farmers commented that they never even thought of bees as having a role in their coffee production."Having more species of trees on coffee farms also provides more places for birds to live. If farmers have at least ten different kinds of trees per hectare, they may be able to have their coffee certified as "bird-friendly." This is done by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in the United States. Bird-friendly coffee can sell for a higher price. The University of Georgia is also helping farmers in Costa Rica increase their income through tourism.

Professor Quint Newcomer directs this program. He says students help design tour routes through coffee farms. In his words, "These farmers become our teachers." They share their local knowledge about how to work the land. UGA Costa Rica, as the center is called, also plans to increase the amount of locally produced food it buys. And when the center needs wood for building, it buys only wood grown locally without artificial chemicals.

For VOA Special English, I'm Carolyn Presutti. You can find more stories about coffee at (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 24Apr2012)