“Ending Hunger in the Coffeelands”

I just read the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s white paper: “A Blue Print to End Hunger in the Coffeelands” created by my colleagues at the SCAA Sustainability Council.  This is an educational piece that I hope every coffee professional and aficionado reads.

As described in the report, studies in Latin America show that 2 out of 3 coffee growing families were unable to meet their nutritional needs throughout the year: farmers and their families did not have enough to eat.  These numbers are similar to what we found in a survey with smallholder coffee farmers in late 2013 in Peru where 66% mentioned that, in the last year, they ate less food or borrowed money for food.  In these surveys, many of the farmers are participating in the specialty coffee industry and are part of coffee certifications.  Just being able to produce great coffee and being part of a certification program does not guarantee farmers will have enough to eat all year round.  These things likely help, but they are not enough.

Knowing that 2 out of every 3 coffee farmer families may not have enough to eat throughout the year should be shocking to all of us involved in the coffee industry. So, what can we do about it?

The SCAA paper outlines suggestions to tackle food insecurity:

  1. We need more research:

–        How prevalent is this problem in Africa and Asia?

–        How prevalent is this problem with different coffee prices (over the years) in different regions?

–        Coffee companies: how prevalent is this problem in YOUR supply chain?

  1. Farmers need technical assistance and support so they can maximize food production and nutrition (not only more calories but more nutritious options such as vegetables and fruit trees)
  1. Diversification so farmers not only depend on coffee and its volatile prices but can find other sources of income and food that will complement income from coffee:

–        Just as coffee companies may find it too risky to rely on one single product (no roaster I know only has “Breakfast Blend” coffee) farmers could benefit from other sources of agricultural income that may complement coffee production. For example: beekeeping can be a low cost, low space alternative that could help small coffee farmers to increase income through the sales of honey while improving coffee cherry size.

  1. Develop long-term, multi-stakeholder initiatives that include farmers, workers and the coffee industry

–        Any solution to this systemic problem will likely come from a larger multi-stakeholder effort that allows farmers and workers earn enough value from coffee and agriculture to build thriving communities.  This will take effort, resources and time, and the involvement of many groups

–        The Coffeelands Food Security Coalition is a promising pre-competitive initiative that could help explore how industry could collaborate closer with coffee growing communities to address issues of food insecurity.  We’ll see if this initiative includes the voices of the communities is trying to support; however, it is encouraging to see industry leaders working together to tackle this issue

The SCAA paper provides specific suggestions that coffee companies can follow.  But here is something that we all can do:

–        Pay a fair price for your coffee.  If you are buying coffee on the cheap, chances are that your coffee farmer and her kids might not have enough to eat at some point in the year

–        Support organizations that are working on this issue: Food4Farmers, Pueblo a Pueblo, and Coffee Kids are examples of organizations supporting coffee communities in Latin America to tackle food insecurity.  I just joined the board of Food4Farmers, and I am motivated by the energy and commitment of its board and staff to work on this issue.  Any coffee company can help studying and supporting this issue in its supply chain and in other coffee growing communities by engaging with and supporting organizations such as Food4Farmers

So now that you know that your coffee farmer family might not have enough to eat throughout the year, will we do something about it?


Read the SCAA report about ending hunger in the coffeelands

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