Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Thin Months Updated Study Now Available

New Research Shows Improved Food Security in Coffee Farming Communities
Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group (ARLG) of the University of Vermont, announced today the results of a 2013 scientific study entitled Thin Months Revisited.This report presents results from a household livelihoods study of smallholder coffee farmers in four sites of Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. The research was conducted in 2013 and represents a longitudinal revisit of the same households from a study conducted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in 2007. The 2013 results show advancements in food security since 2007, which can be attributed to investments in initiatives such as crop diversification.  To read the study, visit the Resources tab in English or on the Recursos en Español tab in Spanish.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Revisiting the Study that Spurred the Film

Many of you remember that a research study conducted by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is what spurred the creation of this film and this effort to educate the coffee industry about seasonal hunger in the coffeelands and engage them to act. Now, 5 years later, we are revisiting that study. 

The team headed back to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico to see what has changed over these last few years. The original survey of small-scale coffee farmers found that over 67% of farmers were unable to maintain their normal diet for 3-8 months of the year. We returned to learn if life has changed for these farmers. We want to know, and we are sure you do to, has the period of “the thin months” shrunk?

To revisit the original study findings, check it out on the Resources tab in English or on the Recursos en Español tab in Spanish.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pueblo a Pueblo receives Sustainability Award during 25th Annual SCAA Conference

April 2013 marked the 25th annual Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) conference; the largest specialty coffee conference in the world which recently took place in Boston.

Amongst the event’s highlights was the work of Pueblo a Pueblo, a non-profit organization focused on improving the lives of indigenous Guatemalans and this year’s recipient of the Sustainability Award in recognition of their Organic School Garden project in Guatemala. The award honors individuals and organizations, within the specialty coffee industry, working to create substantial positive change through projects that promote sustainability.

The Organic School Garden project in Guatemala seeks to improve the lives of those living in coffee growing communities in Guatemala though strengthening food security at the household level and diminishing malnutrition levels for school-aged children.

In 2012, 1,151 children attended weekly garden activities and 86 teachers and directors received trainings on organic agriculture techniques. This project has been complimented by school initiatives, including incorporation of the produce harvested from the organic school gardens into school lunches. In addition, the provision of a daily meal has increased school attendance, students’ learning capability and improvement in the overall health of participating children resulting from the increased diversity of food in their diet.

Below is a video which highlights their great work in Guatemala

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Food Security Workshops at SCAA

This week is the 25th Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) conference; the largest coffee conference in the world where there is a lot to explore. Amidst the extensive variety of workshops offered, there are some specifically designed around the topic of food security. The workshops will cover information ranging from la roya (mentioned in Friday’s post, below) to the development of school gardens, all affecting small scale farmers in the coffee industry.
Below are some recommendations to help you navigate through food security-focused workshops during this jam packed event!

10:30 – 11:45 AM 
  1. Bean Counting: Productivity and Profitability Among Smallholder Coffee Farmers; Room 251
  2. Leaf Rust: Testing our Resiliency as an Industry; Room 252A 
9:00 – 10:15 AM 
  1. 2013 Innovations in Sustainability: Meet the Sustainability Award Winner; Room 253A
  2. Food Insecurity: A Weak Link that Threatens the Coffee Supply Chain and its Long Term Sustainability; Room 252A
10:30 – 11:45 AM
  1. The Silent majority: Independent Small Farmers in Coffee – Bringing Them to the Forefront of Industry Sustainability Efforts; Room 252A

Friday, April 5, 2013

Leaf Rust and Food Security

If you work with coffee farming communities, or if you have an avid interest in coffee, by now you have coffee leaf rust, or “la roya,” which has caused significant losses to the coffee harvest in Central America.  Reports estimate a loss of 20% of the Central American crop this year due to the fungus, and predict a drop upwards of 40% next year.  States of emergency have already been declared in Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua and El Salvador do not seem far behind.
probably heard about the

Coffee Rust on leaves
Coffee leaf rust represents a perilous loss of income for small-scale coffee farming families who are largely reliant on the income earned from coffee and struggle to meet their basic needs during much better times.  In February, the Sustainability and Coffee Departments at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR) teamed up to conduct a survey of our supply chain partners to learn about how rust was affecting producers in their network and to understand the household-level impacts of the rust epidemic.  In 111 survey responses, they learned about the extent of infection, common approaches to treat and prevent the fungus, and the toll that the outbreak is having on vulnerable families.  The coping strategies mentioned included pulling children out of school to save on school expenses, eating less expensive and nutritious foods, and migrating to urban centers where there may be more opportunities for a better life – real or perceived. Read a summary of the survey results here.

GMCR has invested significantly in projects to reduce the window of los meses flacos or “the thin months” of food insecurity. The pervasive opinion in Central America is that the thin months will be longer and more difficult during the next 2-3 years as a result of the coffee rust.  GMCR's food security focus predates this roya epidemic; they know their investments are helping build resiliency for shocks in the coffee system like coffee rust.  These interventions will become even more important as farmer’s primary livelihood is at risk, and will contribute to alleviating a humanitarian crisis.  While much of the coffee industry and producer networks will be focused on renovation as a response to rust, the Sustainability team at GMCR will continue to advocate for enhanced farm plans that include diversified income sources and food production to reduce over reliance on coffee and promote family food security when prices or production are low.

For more information on Coffee Rust and how the industry is reacting visit:
World Coffee Reasearch
Fair Trade USA Rust Response Fund
USAID Report on Coffee Rust and Food Insecurity

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Coffee Industry Leaders Unite with Mercy Corps & Aldea Global to Help Nicaraguan Coffee Farmers Combat Seasonal Hunger

We're very happy to share the following Press Release from Coffeelands Food Security Coalition! Learn more about the Coffeelands Food Security Coalition visit Mercy Corps' Website.

"In coffee growing areas of Central America, seasonal hunger is a common problem. While coffee farming provides families with income for several months of the year, the harvest cycle followed by rainy season leaves some families without food or income for five to seven months. These are known as the “thin months.”

“Aldea Global is looking for a transformative approach in the role of women – with the support of her family – to contribute significantly towards their family’s economic resiliency during these ‘thin months.’”
In a bold move to fight seasonal hunger in coffee producing countries, five coffee industry leaders – Counter Culture Coffee, Farmer Brothers, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (NASDAQ: GMCR), Starbucks Coffee Company (NASDAQ: SBUX) and Sustainable Harvest Coffee Importers – have come together to form the Coffeelands Food Security Coalition. In partnership with the global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps and the Nicaraguan organization Asociación “Aldea Global” Jinotega, these companies will help coffee farming families in Jinotega Department – the source of 60 percent of Nicaragua’s coffee – combat seasonal hunger.

“Working with coffee producing families in Indonesia and Guatemala, we have seen the tremendous day-to-day challenges of the ‘thin months,’” said Kathy Fry, regional program director for Mercy Corps. “We have a long-standing relationship with Aldea Global; they are an important local partner, and well-positioned to address the issue of hunger and poverty in the heart of the coffee value chain. Together, we will strive to ensure these coffee farmers have the knowledge, tools and resources to feed their families year-round.”

The three-year Empowering Food Secure Communities program will work with 150 women and their families to help them improve farming and business techniques, develop additional sources of income through home gardens and diversified crop production as well as engage more effectively with local government to provide assistance to the hungriest families.

Increased crop yields and diversified economic opportunities will support household consumption during the “thin months,” and will allow farmers to earn more income by selling surplus produce in the local market. Farmers will participate in educational sessions on financial literacy, pest management, crop rotation, micro-irrigation, water and soil conservation, as well as proper storage and handling techniques. The Empowering Food Secure Communities program will also strive to achieve gender equality in the traditionally male-dominated culture by promoting gender education, improving women’s access to credit and identifying business opportunities at local markets.

“Studies show that providing educational and economic opportunities for women will lead to improved, sustained living standards,” explained Warren Armstrong, General Manager of Asociación “Aldea Global” Jinotega. “Aldea Global is looking for a transformative approach in the role of women – with the support of her family – to contribute significantly towards their family’s economic resiliency during these ‘thin months.’”

The work in Jinotega also has an important disaster risk reduction component. According to the 2011 Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) report, Nicaragua is the fourth most vulnerable country in the world to weather-related disasters like droughts and hurricanes. These disasters can cause massive crop destruction. To adapt to and mitigate this severe weather, Mercy Corps and Aldea Global will teach farmers ways to better prepare for natural disasters. “Climate-smart” gardens will allow women to conserve water for crop irrigation during dry periods, as well as protect crops from pest infestation and bad weather.

As the specialty coffee community discovered the extent to which coffee farmers were struggling to feed their children, it became clear that the problem was too big for one company to tackle alone. According to Shauna Alexander Mohr, coordinator of the Coffeelands Food Security Coalition, “these five companies have forged an unprecedented effort to work together - with one another, with nonprofit partners, and with coffee farmers themselves - to make a difference. New kinds of partnerships are necessary for solutions to emerge in our common fight against seasonal hunger.”

The Empowering Food Secure Communities is the inaugural project of the Coffeelands Food Security Coalition. The alliance is committed to bringing awareness to the issue of seasonal hunger and plans additional projects in other coffee producing countries and communities. For more information, visit:

About Asociación Aldea Global Jinotega
Asociación “Aldea Global” Jinotega was formed by 22 small-scale farmers in 1992. Together small-scale farmers, leaders in services and profitable agricultural businesses, are working in harmony with God, the environment, social responsibility and gender equity to be instrumental in the progress of Nicaragua’s rural families. Today, Aldea Global has grown to 1,429 active members.

About Coffeelands Food Security Coalition
The Coffeelands Food Security Coalition is a new, collaborative project of leading companies in the specialty coffee industry that aims to develop, enable and disseminate solutions to seasonal hunger in coffee producing countries.

About Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps helps people turn the crises they confront into the opportunities they deserve. Driven by local needs, our programs provide communities in the world’s toughest places with the tools and support they need to transform their own lives. Our worldwide team in 41 countries is improving the lives of 19 million people. For more information, see"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The world of coffee is complex.  In between when the coffee bean is picked and you eagerly brew your cup of coffee, there is a long chain of processes and people that have to come together to make it all happen. It is relatively easy for the consumer to imagine the production process from importer or roaster on, but far more challenging to envision, or try to relate to, the farmer that harvested that coffee.

Woman in Coffee Community Food Security Project in Nicaragua
You already know about “los meses flacos” or “the thin months” and what they represent: a period of food scarcity that is commonplace among isolated rural farmers globally.  It is not unique to those who grow coffee, but appears to be a frequent occurrence for smallholder coffee farmers who have limited land holdings and have weighted their land-use investment toward the coffee cash crop.

A recent publication by Professor V. Ernesto Méndez and Martha Caswell, members of the Agroecology and Rural Livelihood Group at the University of Vermont, in conjunction with Christopher M. Bacon in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University, looks at just this subject. We invite you to check it out here: “Food Security and Smallholder Coffee Production: Current Issues and Future Directions.

In this policy brief, you can learn about contributing factors, existing research on food insecurity in the coffeelands, and answer a call for promising strategies to address the issue. They acknowledge that although the industry recognizes “…that food insecurity per¬sists in coffee-producing communities, we are still grap¬pling with understanding the particular dynamics be¬tween coffee production and food security.”

As you read the policy brief, we invite you to let us know what’s on your mind. Send us any questions or comments that you may have through our Contact Us page.