(editor’s note: Author Theresa Kane is the Chief Operating Officer for the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development, Inc., which operates the Coffeelands Trust, a victim assistance program for coffee growing communities affected by landmines.)
Food insecurity, coffee rust, poverty. Coffee growers face an array of challenges that are appropriately being discussed, with coffee industry leaders working together to raise awareness and address these complex global dilemmas.
One less visible issue is the devastating impact of landmines on coffee growing communities. Tragically, some of the best coffee producing regions also have the heaviest concentrations of landmine use. High-quality coffee is often grown in mountainous areas that in times of war are strategically significant as territory borders or as strongholds for opposing forces. Landmines are a particularly effective weapon in steep terrain where movement is limited to mountain trails that traverse agricultural areas – the same areas where coffee farmers live and work.
Landmines do not disappear at the end of the conflict, nor do they limit their impact to soldiers. “Antipersonnel mines can lie dormant for years and even decades until a person or animal triggers their detonating mechanism,” says the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a group that works to ban landmine use. “Since mines are not aimed at a specific target, they can indiscriminately kill or injure civilians, including children.”
In 2012 there were 10 casualties per day reported from mines, improvised explosive devices, cluster munition remnants, and other explosive remnants of war (ERW), decreased from 25 casualties each day in 1999. The vast majority (78 percent) are civilians, 47 percent of them children. “These weapons can be found on roads, footpaths, farmer’s fields, forests, deserts, along borders, in and surrounding houses and schools, and in other places where people carry out their daily activities,” the Monitor added in a recent report on Colombia. “They can deny access to food, water, and other basic needs, and inhibit freedom of movement, limiting people’s ability to participate in education or access medical care.”
Many top coffee producing countries are listed as mine-affected, including Colombia, Vietnam, Ecuador, Peru, Ethiopia, Thailand, and Burundi. Even when a country is declared mine-free, the challenges for people who have lost limbs, eyesight or even their peace of mind have not gone away.
In Nicaragua, for example, cleared of landmines in 2010, there are more than 1200 “survivors,” a term used for those who contacted the explosive device. For every survivor, however, there are many “victims,” including entire communities. Mines prevent good land from being cultivated, coffee trees go unpicked, and crops cannot be transported. Mined roads limit access to food, water, and health care services. Fear of explosives, even when they have been cleared, makes it difficult for a person to freely travel to attend school, work, or other community activities.
Many coffee growers work in areas ravaged by internal civil conflict, such as those in Colombia, where there have been 10,184 casualties reported since 1982, in 31 of Colombia’s 32 departments. The majority ofcasualties occur in rural areas where coffee is produced. Entire communities have been displaced or live in fear of drug cartels, paramilitaries, and guerrilla groups.
There are opportunities for victim assistance, which can offer a wide range of rehabilitation initiatives, including prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, psychosocial services and physical therapy. A holistic approach looks beyond immediate medical needs and provides economic opportunity through the purchase of fertilizers, planting disease resilient varieties of plants or new machinery, or offering vocational training or assistance in establishing a small business. Coffee producers impacted by conflict want to get back to work to support their families.