by Miguel Zamora of Coffee Gente
I just read the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s white paper, “A Blueprint to End Hunger in the Coffeelands,” created by my colleagues at the SCAA Sustainability Council. This is an educational piece that I warrants a read from every coffee professional and aficionado.
As described in the report, studies in Latin America show that two out of three coffee growing families were unable to meet their nutritional needs throughout the year: Simply put, 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 percent said that in the last year they ate less food then the year before, or borrowed money for food.
In these surveys, many of the farmers are part of the specialty coffee chain, and many are working on certified farms. In short, the ability to produce great coffee while being supported by a certification program does not guarantee a farmer will have enough to eat year-round. These things help, but they are not enough.
Knowing that two out of every three coffee farmer families do 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:
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?
Farmers need technical assistance and support so they can maximize food production and nutritional value. (Not only do they need more calories, but also more nutritious options from things like vegetables and fruit trees).
Farmers cannot only depend on coffee and its volatile prices. They must find other sources of income and food that will supplement 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. For example, beekeeping can be a low-cost, low-space alternative that could create income through honey sales while organically improving coffee cherry size.
Develop long-term, multi-stakeholder initiatives that include farmers, workers and the coffee industry
Any solution to this systemic problem will likely need to 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, 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 it is trying to support, but it is at least encouraging to see industry leaders working together to tackle this issue.
The SCAA paper provides suggestions specific to coffee companies. 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 your coffee farmer and her kids might not have enough to eat at some point in the year.
Support organizations 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 already working on this issue.
As consumers or professionals, we now know that the coffee farmer family behind much of the coffee we drink is likely not getting enough to eat throughout the year, but will we do something about it?
Miguel Zamora is the Head of the Americas Region for UTZ. His work supports coffee farmers and the industry to make sustainable farming the norm. He is a member of the Advisory Councils of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge and the Sustainability Center of the SCA.