Rain Forest Rescue in Madagascar is Saving More Than Forests, it is Saving the Lemurs

toucanTropical rain forests are home to half of the world’s plants and animals, and a source of food, medicines and other plant-based products that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But according to the California Institute of Technology, about 2,000 trees per minute are cut down in rain forests, destroying natural habitat and displacing wildlife.

Rain forest deforestation affects us all. Approximately 25% of all medicines on the market today come from plants found only in tropical rain forests including treatments for a variety of cancers, malaria and multiple sclerosis. Additionally, deforestation leads to the growing extinction of many species, such as the adorable lemurs.

BW Lemur

Black and white ruffed lemurs provide an ecological service by aiding fruit seed germination through digestion of seed coatings.

Lemurs are small primates found exclusively in the forests of the island nation of Madagascar. As much as 80% of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed, leading to a diminishing population of rare species. Lemurs are unique because they play a key role in the future of trees.  Ninety percent of a lemur’s diet is fruit. As a result of their diet, lemurs eat frequently and process their meals more rapidly.

What does this have to do with trees? The seeds left behind from a lemur’s meal have their coatings removed, allowing for germination in the forest. In fact, the germination rate of seeds processed by lemurs is nearly 100 percent, compared to only 5 percent of unprocessed (or coated) seeds. Lemurs not only live off of the forest, but they’re replanting it too.

lemur disperser
Lemurs are the primary seed disperser of the Madagascar’s eastern rain forest at Sangasanga Mountain.

 The Arbor Day Foundation and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium joined forces to advance the reforestation efforts led by the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Kianjavato, Madagascar by planting hundreds of thousands of trees to restore habitat. In 2009, the lemur population at Sangasanga Mountain was only eight. As of 2015 the population increased to six times what it was, with a lemur population of fifty! The impact of the reforestation effort in Madagascar has helped more than just the forest; it is helping bring back a species from the brink of extinction.

Saving an endangered animal such as the lemur comes from the help of Arbor Day Foundation members through programs such as Rain Forest Rescue. Thanks to the support of members, the Arbor Day Foundation is able to help restore the forests of Madagascar and provide habitat to save the endangered lemurs. Additionally, the reforestation effort is improving the economy and living conditions of the local people through jobs in tree nurseries and on the mountain sides planting those trees.

If we’re able to increase the lemur population by six times on one mountain top in Madagascar, imagine what we can accomplish on the rest of the island. Tropical rain forests contain more species than any other ecosystem on Earth, yet are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Check out our latest Rain Forest Rescue Report  to see the other impacts our replanting efforts leave.

Search for great coffee takes Arbor Day Foundation’s Jared Carlson to Costa Rica

The Arbor Day Foundation’s specialty coffee has great taste and great values. It is shade grown under rain forest canopies in Mexico and Peru, and great care is taken during every step of production.

As Development Manager Jared Carlson tells me, we don’t cut corners.

“Our focus has been on sourcing with the highest quality possible,” he says. “We want to put together an amazing cup of coffee.”

Carlson, who works out of the Foundation’s Lincoln office, knows what he’s talking about. In January, he traveled to Costa Rica to explore possible new coffee sources and to get a closer look at how it’s done on the ground.

He spent his trip waking up before sunrise and taking long journeys every day to talk to farmers, staying in what he described as “some rustic, remote areas.”

Shade-grown coffee has a number of benefits. It requires fewer inputs like fertilizer and pesticides. And it prevents the clear-cutting of rain forests that is required for traditionally mass-produced, sun-grown coffee.

The care of harvest also produces a richer, more flavorful bean because it matures more slowly.

While some of the larger coffee producers pick the cherries that later become coffee beans before they have fully ripened and throw them in a large truck, shade-grown farmers only pick the cherries when they are ready to be picked.

“Back in the 70s, there was a big shift toward basically a more mechanized approach to production of coffee,” Carlson says. “What they figured out is if you level out all the trees and you start planting these coffee trees in a row and start using a lot of pesticides and fertilizers, you can actually get them to produce a lot more cherries. So there was this big push just to slash and burn.”

The result has been devastating to the environment, which Carlson saw firsthand.

“Costa Rica is a very beautiful country, but everywhere you look you can see the deforestation that has occurred. And you have the coffee shrubs in their place.”

People talked a lot about roads getting blocked off and farms being destroyed by landslides, but they didn’t make the connection that ripping out native trees was the cause. Coffee is technically a shrub, though its green color can be deceiving. Many think it’s going to hold the soil in place, but it is no substitute for the larger trees that coffee plants replace.

Shade grown coffee truly makes a difference – for saving rain forests, but also by greatly reducing the environmental degradation that follows from severe deforestation. That has a meaningful impact on quality of life.

Carlson says the economy of scale is not there yet for shade-grown coffee farms to work in much of Costa Rica and other South and Central America countries. That’s where the Foundation has a role to play increasing demand.

“Basically, what we need to do is create a larger marketplace, which I believe comes from educating the consumers that it does make a difference what coffee you drink,” he says. “And as we build the demand for those coffees, we can go to coffee growing regions and offer them an economic incentive to keep the rain forest intact.”

Learn more about our award-winning coffee here.