Los Meses Flacos: Seasonal Hunger in the Coffeelands
Today is World Food Day, and we would like to take this opportunity to talk about coffee-related food scarcity.
Coffee is harvested at various times throughout the year, depending on where it is grown. The harvest period in any region lasts a few months (in some countries, like Colombia and Kenya, there are two harvests a year: the main harvest, during which the best coffees that a farm can produce are picked, and the fly crop, or traviesa, which is generally not as good).
Millions of coffee farmers around the world depend on the income from those few harvest months to last them the whole year. Food insecurity is therefore a major problem for coffee farmers and their families. In Central America, these families can face anywhere from one to eight months of hunger each year, depending on myriad factors, including the amount of land they can farm for food (remember that coffee trees compete with food crops for limited space on small plots or milpas), the size and quality of their coffee crop, whether or not they have skills and education outside of coffee cultivation, and of course the global market price for coffee, which is currently quite high, but which fluctuates dramatically.
Add to this annual situation a leaf rust epidemic causing significant losses of coffee crops and increased volatility in rainfall patterns and flooding, and the problem becomes even more dire.
Several non-profit organizations are attempting to address seasonal hunger. For example, Coffee Kids' GROW it Forward project helps establish family gardens, administers vermiculture and composting workshops, and provides piglets, seeds, and other materials and training. The point of these programs is to 1) decrease farmers' dependency on coffee alone for their income, 2) provide low-cost and healthy alternatives to cheaper, less nutritious comida chatarra, and 3) advocate for food sovereignty (the right of food producers to dictate how they grow, distribute, and consume food) and agroecological practices.
Red Rock Roasters has been a proud sponsor of Coffee Kids for many years. Paying fair prices to producers for their crops, especially Fair Trade certified coffees, is also an important part of being a responsible coffee buyer/roaster.
After the Harvest is a 22-minute video about coffeeland hunger: http://aftertheharvestorg.blogspot.com/p/watch.html
"Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue," by Margarita Fernandez, V. Ernesto Mendez, and Christopher Bacon, is where I got my facts and figures: http://www.yale.edu/agrarianstudies/foodsovereignty/pprs/42_Fernandez_Mendez_Bacon_2013.pdf
GROW it Forward: http://www.coffeekids.org/grow-forward/
Sustainable Harvest: http://www.sustainableharvest.com/programs/
Pueblo a Pueblo: http://www.puebloapueblo.org/
PHOTO: Boys learn organic gardening techniques in Guatemala, through Pueblo a Pueblo.