"How can we even think of saving chimpanzees if the humans around them are struggling to survive?" That was the question posed by Dr. Jane Goodall, who's devoted 47 years of her life studying chimps in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and who's finding ways to help both now through the sales of specialty grounds through Green Mountain Coffee. Yep, that ever-green staple of overcaffeinated eco-conscious consumers has found a new champion in one of the most renowned anthropologists this side of Louis Leakey.
I know what you're saying: Who hasn't written about using one of the vices of the first world to help improve the fortunes of the Third World? And I don't mean this. We've all heard about fair-trade coffee now, even written about it in this magazine. So it was nice to see a new take on an old idea.
Fifteen years ago, Goodall flew over the park, and was shocked to see the rampant deforestation in the areas immediately surrounding it, especially in the higher elevations. Not only did this cause massive erosion, but it also isolated the chimps into "islands," lessening their chances of survival, especially considering their numbers have dwindled from more than a million in the '60s to around 150,000 today.
But the deforestation is caused by the poverty of the local population, who, trying to eke out a living, use the trees for firewood. So her institute set about looking for ways to help them as a way to indirectly help the chimps, through microcredit loans to education to farmland revitalization projects.
During this process, she also discovered that Tanzanian coffee growers in the area were producing some high-quality beans near the park, but due to the remoteness of the area and the market economics, were mixing them with lower-quality beans and selling them to middlemen in bulk.
Not only do these beans grow best at higher elevations adjacent to the park, but they also thrive when partially shaded by other trees. By incentivising the growers to cultivate more of these beans, it would also encourage them to reforest the areas around the park, effectively giving the chimps a little more breathing room, and acting as a natural buffer between them and the local villages. So the Jane Goodall Institute found a partner in Green Mountain Coffee who buys the beans directly from the growers, and has created a special line called "Gombe Mountain Reserve."
During her talk, Goodall proved to be a very charming and funny woman. She described her early interest in primates and Africa was sparked when she was a child and was regaled by tales of Tarzan. "Of course he married that other, stupid Jane," she said. After promoting the partnership with Green Mountain, Goodall, a coffee lover herself, gamely demonstrated to the room full of reporters how she filters coffee in a pinch by using her pantyhose. When you're out in the jungle that long, you've got to get creative.
And the coffee? Not bad, but then, for $17.95 for 12 ounces, it'd better be good.