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.
(Farmworkers: The Coffee Industry’s Ethical Blight and a PR Disaster in Waiting)
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).
(more: On Marketplace vs. Origin: ‘Like It or Not, We Are All in This Together’)
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.
(more: Nonprofits Banking on Beekeeping to Help Farmers in the Thin Months | The Birds and the Bees: Coffee Quality and Yield in Tanzania)
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.
(more: Five Strategies from Five Coffee Luminaries on How to Keep Smallholders Viable)
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.
How about setting up a fund for coffee growers through the FAO that is supported by coffee importers, roasters and retailers, that is funded by donations from a percentage of their sales. I am a very small roaster who sells in my local market, but I would be willing to donate to such a fund even though my contribution would be small, it is better than nothing at all.
Support from roasters like you is very important to educate others (industry and consumers too). My advice would be to check organizations working on this, such as Food4Farmers. You can support research and work on this issue with organizations such as Food4Farmers that are working on the field. You could partner with them to educate your customers too
I’ve devoted much of my life to the third world and seeing those thrive who were previously not. So I say this with about two decades of experience – but by no means an expert (in fact, the longer I do it, the more I realize I’m no expert).
The issue I take (not a big one) is that the author says “If you are paying for cheap coffee, your farmer is probably starving.” Guilt motivation only pisses people off, and also more expensive coffe doesn’t solve the issues. This equates poverty to only a money issue, which study after study show that it’s at best, marginally a money issue – though money is PART of the problem, more expensive coffee will not fix this.
Additionally, unless you can prove how the money is spent, more expensive coffee (or appropriately priced coffee, as you might suggest) COULD only serves to increase profits of local coffee shops. Could… not necessarily. There are larger economic and social factors at play here and I highly doubt an influx of money to famers would fix – in fact, it could make it much much worse. Money has a 50/50 shot of making things worse, from what I’ve experienced.
Nonetheless, Miguel, please continue this important work.
Thanks. I agree: “more expensive coffee doesn’t solve the issues”. The point I tried to make was that I believe that cheap coffee is part of the problem. Not the same but related
In addition, the research from the white paper does not talk about “starving” and neither do I. The issues is about not being able to meet nutritional needs throughout the year / not having enough food throughout the year. Just a small clarification.
I would recommend everybody to read the actual report since it highlights those points about food insecurity being an issue linked to poverty and inequality more than just prices.
thanks for the comment
I would like to have a magazine for information.Thank you