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Nonprofit AMRDI Researching ‘Coffee Lives’ in Nicaragua

AMRDI representatives conducted field interviews in Nicaragua as part of the Coffee Lives project.

The Colorado-based nonprofit Arctic and Mountain Regions Development Institute (AMRDI) has released the second in a series of policy briefs related to farmer livelihood following surveys of coffee farmers and pickers in the highland coffee-producing regions of Matagalpa and Jinotega in Nicaragua.

Under the program banner Coffee Lives, the briefs are intended not only to provide research and data, but to facilitate relationships between potential buyers in coffee-consuming countries, while also providing recommendations for policy- and decision-makers regarding trade decisions for a more sustainable coffee sector and improved livelihoods among farmers. As part of its relationship-focused mission, the nonprofit has partnered with Gold Mountain Coffee Growers, which maintains a producer network from its own farm (Finca Idealista) and through its Managua headquarters.

Released earlier this year, the group’s first policy brief addressed findings related to sexual assault among coffee farmers and laborers, with 25 percent of the Nicaraguan respondents — both men and women — reported having been sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime.

“Coffee farmers are rural farmers, highly susceptible to climate change, and will require… robust health, education, social networks, and access to decision-making, in order to adequately prepare and adapt to changes,” the group wrote in the initial brief. “Sexual violence, it is clear, is one impeding factor that has been largely overlooked to date and which will require attention by existing donors and partners.”

In the most recent brief, unveiled last week, AMRDI explores issues surrounding food security and illness among Nicaraguan growers and laborers. In-person surveys showed that 50 percent of respondents had skipped work within the past year due to illness; 40 percent had skipped a meal within the past year because they were unable to afford food; and 33 percent said hunger was either the first or second largest factor affecting their health.

From the brief:

Additionally, but more anecdotally, many of the coffee growers we surveyed dedicated part of their land to growing crops other than coffee, partially for their own consumption, but primarily for the purpose of selling them for profit. This suggests that farmers are coping with food insecurity by seeking more reliable, and diverse sources of income, rather than growing food for sustenance. Myriad development programs currently encourage small gardens in order to address food insecurity, but our initial research suggests that this is both insufficient, and perhaps more importantly, does not comport with farmer wants.

In its recommendations regarding illness, AMRDI notes the successful implementation of health savings account programs in other countries, although it suggests such implementation requires “careful design.” The group also added the following recommendations for the sector:

  • Provision of transportation to clinics.
  • Inclusion of conditional terms for coffee purchases, such as provided sick days for employees.
  • Wellness certifications that audit overall health and wellbeing, rather than income alone.
  • Making food available to employees at a free or discounted rate, similar to subsidized lunches offered at many workplace cafeterias in developed countries.
  • Distributing incomes more evenly across the calendar year, through myriad financial mechanisms.
  • More basically, auditing the total workforce itself, so that buyers and importers have a more complete sense of the number of individuals and households directly affected by operations (landowners will employ seasonal, “invisible” labor who rely on cash from picking but who are otherwise sidestepped by coffee development programs because of their “unregistered” status).

See the full brief here.

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