Food 4 Farmers (Food4Farmers.org) is doing important work in coffee-growing communities to strengthen local food systems, promote sustainable farming practices, diversify family livelihoods, and cultivate local leadership. We sat down with the organization to explore the origins and outcomes of their work. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.
What are the origins of Food 4 Farmers?
Food 4 Farmers grew out of alarming findings from a study led by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and the International Center For Tropical Agriculture (also known as CIAT) that uncovered high levels of seasonal hunger faced by coffee-farming families in Latin America. They found that nearly 70% of the families interviewed experienced 3 to 8 months of food scarcity year after year. In 2011, Food 4 Farmers was founded as the only NGO focused solely on helping coffee-farming families put healthy, locally-grown food on the table.
Why do coffee farmers struggle with seasonal hunger?
Years ago, most coffee-farming families operated well-diversified farms that also produced food and staple products. But now, families are overly dependent on coffee production. Due to price volatility, high production costs, and the impacts of climate change, coffee alone doesn’t generate enough income to put food on the table. Even farming families growing high quality coffee that command fair trade and other premiums live far below the Global Poverty Line of $1.90 per day. This has led to families facing seasonal hunger year after year, when food prices are high, and coffee income runs out.
How does Food 4 Farmers work with coffee-farming communities?
Food 4 Farmers partners with coffee cooperatives, communities, and farming families in Latin America to connect them with the tools, knowledge, and resources they need to access good food, every day. We tailor our strategies and programs to fit each community’s specific challenges, opportunities, and needs, to create sustainable solutions to the root causes of seasonal hunger. While they look different in every community, our strategies focus on diversifying coffee farms and farmers’ sources of income, promoting sustainable farming practices, and building the capacity of our co-op partners.
Can you provide examples of how Food 4 Farmers helps to diversify coffee farms and sources of income?
Our income and farm diversification strategies vary depending on the needs of the communities. For example, at the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative in Nicaragua, we work with coffee farmers to establish home gardens on their farms to provide fresh, healthy food and improve on-farm biodiversity. After a couple years of growing food for their families through our home garden program, 36 women coffee farmers joined our Nutri-Hogar market to sell fresh organic produce to the local community in Jinotega, a city of 130,000 people. They use the additional income they earn at the market to feed and invest in their families – including sending their daughters to local universities.
At the CESMACH cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico, we’ve worked with coffee farmers to use beekeeping as an income diversification strategy. By selling the high-quality honey they produce, farmers earn extra income during months of traditional food scarcity when income from the previous coffee harvest has run out. This extra income helps families manage rising food costs and avoid going into debt to purchase food. It also provides a safety net when their coffee harvest is disrupted by coffee leaf rust, pests, or natural disasters. In 2021, the beekeepers at the CESMACH produced 39,203 pounds of honey, which generated more than $50,000 in supplemental income for its 52 coffee-farming families.
What progress have you seen in the communities you partner with?
Since we began our work in 2011, we’ve helped thousands of coffee-farming families improve their livelihoods, food security, and resilience, while nurturing their farms and the land around them. And while 2021 was one the most difficult years we’ve seen for coffee-farming families – who confronted a pandemic, global supply chain disruptions, and a parade of climate events – they persisted, and made much progress in the last year alone.
In 2021, our partners at the SOPPEXCCA, Maya Ixil and Comepcafe cooperatives planted more than 100,000 trees and shrubs on 580 coffee farms that provide food for consumption, prevent soil erosion, and improve water access for home gardens. Our school garden program in Nicaragua grew from 4 to 13 elementary schools, where over 2,600 students are learning to grow, eat, and appreciate healthy food every day. And, beekeepers at the CESMACH and ACODIHUEcooperatives produced and sold record levels of specialty honey. This was also the first year CESMACH signed a contract with a buyer for their honey.
Are there any stories from farmers you work with you would like to share?
Rosibel Gonzalez, a member of the SOPPEXCCA cooperative in Nicaragua, has driven much of the progress at their women-run organic farmers market. Since childhood, Rosibel has been fascinated by farming, and has dedicated herself to agricultural work. She joined SOPPEXCCA in 2015, and soon after became a member of the market program.
In her home garden, she harvests vegetables for her husband and four children, as well as her community – without the use of any agrochemicals, and sells surplus produce at the market. Thanks to the market, her income has increased by 10%, with additional savings on food purchases, and she’s used the proceeds to send her daughter to a local university. Since joining our program, Rosibel says “Our family’s diet has changed a lot. Before, we hardly ate any vegetables. Just rice, beans and bananas. Not only because we couldn't buy fresh produce, but also because I didn't really like to eat vegetables or fruits. Now, my 3-year-old daughter goes to the garden on her own and pulls carrots to eat herself!”
Check out our Food 4 Farmers Blend here.