Food 4 Farmers Helps Coffee-Farming Families Overcome Seasonal Food Insecurity

Food 4 Farmers (F4F) is a non-governmental organization collaborating with coffee-growing communities in Latin America. The organization hopes to build thriving local food hubs, diversify family incomes, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and cultivate local leadership.

Since 2011, F4F has established partnerships with 6 local organizations and coffee cooperatives in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua, representing more than 8,000 coffee-farming families.

“Our approach puts farmers at the front and center of our programs,” Alyson Welch, Executive Director of F4F tells Food Tank. Once F4F commits to a new program, they work directly with members of coffee-farming communities to “better understand the root causes of food insecurity” and “co-develop and co-implement culturally and contextually appropriate strategies to combat seasonal hunger,” Welch says.

In two countries where F4F works—Mexico and Nicaragua—and throughout Central America, a leaf disease known as la roya, or coffee rust, has affected smallholder coffee farms. The volatility of international coffee prices has also led to months of food insecurity, according to the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reports (ECLAC).

Coffee rust, which is linked to hotter temperatures and an unpredictable climate, wiped out about half of Nicaragua’s crops between 2012 and 2014, Reuters reports. The southern Mexican state of Chiapas accounts for nearly 40 percent of national coffee production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But in 2015, roya infected 70 percent of the state’s coffee trees in 2015, a study from the University of New Mexico finds.

F4F is helping partners in Mexico and Nicaragua adapt to these challenges while addressing each community’s specific needs. In Chiapas, F4F partners with Campesinos Ecológicos de La Sierra Madre de Chiapas (CESMACH) to integrate beekeeping with coffee farming. In the Nicaraguan cities of Jinotega and Matagalpa, F4F and the Society of Small Producers for Coffee Export (SOPPEXCCA) developed Jinotega’s first-ever organic farmers market where women in the cooperative can sell the organic produce they have grown in their home gardens.

F4F “grew out of alarming findings from a study that uncovered high levels of food insecurity faced by coffee-farming families in Latin America,” Welch tells Food Tank.

In Chiapas, incorporating beekeeping with coffee farming may help overcome some of these challenges. Harvesting honey, which falls after the coffee harvest, can provide farmers with additional income during the thin months. This income can also help protect families from possible disruptions in their coffee harvest, caused by coffee rust, pests, natural disasters, or low coffee prices.

Susy Roblero, a beekeeping advocate who has trained for two years in the F4F and CESMACH program, tells Food Tank that “beekeeping benefits the food system in the region through pollination and environmental conservation.” The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that pollinators affect 35 percent of global agricultural land and support the production of 87 leading global food crops, like coffee and cocoa.

“In 2021, our beekeepers at the CESMACH coffee cooperative produced 39,203 pounds of honey, which generated more than US$50,000 in supplemental income for its coffee-farming families,” Marcela Pino, Program Director and Co-Founder of F4F tells Food Tank. Co-op partners at CESMACH are beginning the organic certification process for their honey, so they can sell it for higher prices. Beekeeping also requires less land, allowing women and young people, who are often excluded from local job opportunities, to get involved.

“Engaging both women and youth in opportunities that promote food security and climate resilience is extremely important, not only to the success of our programs but to the well-being of coffee-farming communities,” Pino says.

Through F4F’s partnership with SOPPEXCCA, Nicaraguan women are also cultivating food security for their families. The organic farmers market, Mercadito Orgánico Nutri-Hogar, enables women to supply their families with fresh food from their home gardens, while also receiving a regular income.

Before getting involved in the project, Rosibel González Ruiz, who has participated in the program for three years, says her family mostly ate rice, beans, and guineo, “not only because we couldn’t buy [vegetables], but also because I didn’t really like to eat vegetables or fruits.” But now, González Ruiz says her three-year-old daughter “goes to the garden on her own and pulls her own carrots to eat!”

Lilliam Pérez Arauz, Coordinator of the Food Security and Sovereignty Program (SSAN) for SOPPEXCCA tells Food Tank that “families are eating a diverse diet and organic products, and are diversifying their crops.”

F4F plans to expand its school garden program beyond Nicaragua to help the next generation of coffee-farming families attain food security. In 2021, F4F and its cooperative partners in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Colombia planted nearly 100,000 trees, shrubs, and bee friendly plants on 580 coffee farms. Following this success, F4F also hopes to expand its agroforestry, reforestation, and home garden programs across Mexico.

“Women are key to cultivating and promoting local food systems, food security and food sovereignty,” says Pino.

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Photo courtesy of Food 4 Farmers

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