The Thin Months

What if you could only feed your family for 6-months out of the year?

In coffee-growing communities around the world – from Nicaragua to Rwanda to Sumatra – families confront hunger on a yearly basis due to a phenomenon known locally as, “los meses flacos,” or the thin months.

In Nicaragua and much of Central America, the coffee harvest begins in November and ends in late February. By the end of May, most families’ income from the harvest is largely depleted. This comes at a time when the price of their basic grains are at their highest of the year, due to the fact that these crops are not harvested until the autumn. This leaves coffee farming families 3-months when their financial resources are very limited and the price for their basic food staples are very high. Since most families in the area do not grow their own food, they deal with these months in 3-ways:
  1. by eating the same foods, but consuming less of them.
  2. by eating less expensive foods.
  3. by borrowing funds (i.e. going into debt) to purchase food.
These findings were revealed in summer of 2007 when the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) interviewed over 179 coffee farmers to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by small-scale coffee farming families.  When results of this interview were shared, organizations such as CESMACH, CECOCAFEN, PRODECOOP/CII-ASDENIC, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, Pueblo a Pueblo, Café Femenino, and Heifer International began to work from the ground-up, believing that the coffee farming families know better than anyone what the solutions to “Los Meses Flacos” should be.

To help families develop sustainable approaches to overcoming this seasonal food insecurity, community-based projects have been initiated to directly impact the food security of coffee farming families by diversifying:
  1. land holdings to grow food to eat during the offseason.
  2. sources of income by selling other products.
When fully implemented, the combined efforts of these projects will touch approximately 20,800 families or about 110,098 people.  And yet, the struggle to fight hunger in the coffeelands continues.