Seasonal hunger is a crisis that affects coffee-farming families around the world. Food 4 Farmers was formed in 2010 to help these families put nutritious food on their tables every day, and help them build a better quality of life for themselves and their communities.
Last summer, Fatima Ismael, general manager of 670-member Nicaraguan co-operative SOPPEXCCA, contacted us to ask if we would help build a long-term food security plan for the co-op. Her goal was to have a 5-year food security and food sovereignty action plan. Food sovereignty, defined by the 2002 World Food Summit is “the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances.” Fatima’s strategic approach fit perfectly with our mission and approach.
Many coffee farmers come from an old pattern of being locked in a cycle of not producing their own food. The reasons for this are complex and valid – ranging from the high cost of food production to lack of enough land – and point to the need for strategic, coherent planning that brings holistic, long-term solutions to this difficult, ingrained problem.
Though farmers identify “dependency on coffee” as a vulnerability, they don’t always make the connection between “The Thin Months” – the months each year when food is scarce, and incomes are too low to purchase food – and not producing their own food. There is a saying in Spanish –’No es lo mismo verla venir, que bailar con ella’ or, ‘It’s not the same to see her coming, as to dance with her.’
To address the issue of seasonal hunger, our Food 4 Farmers staff and Board had brought our collective experience and skills from a broad range of field work, research, partnerships and policy development together. We had met, discussed, planned, and debated – but we hadn’t yet tested our program.
Last August, Program Director Marcela Pino found herself in the small offices at SOPPEXCCA with a mission: bringing the community together to build a long-term plan for food security. First, she facilitated a 2-week strategic planning process that included the whole co-op community – farmers, staff and management. Then, they all came together to review findings and vote on strategies. Throughout the process, participants expressed their support of, and engaged in, what we were shaping together. They liked the way the meetings were structured so producers had a real voice, a chance to express and discuss their opinions. We were committed to making this component part of the work, and it made a difference.
Community leaders stepped forward. SOPPEXCCA técnico Domingo Vargas worked with Marcela, non-stop. Domingo had attended a food security forum organized by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Community Agroecology Network (CAN), and carried the excitement about what he had learned with him throughout the project.
Our project turned out to be incredibly rewarding. We were gratified to see farmers, co-op staff and management working together, identifying innovative, common-sense strategies to address a long-term, chronic problem. We’re excited about what we’re helping our partners build, and look forward to their great success. Phase two of this project – implementing specific strategies – should begin in late 2012.
Who Benefits From This Project?
The 670 farming families of SOPPEXXCA will directly benefit from growing more food locally. The co-op will benefit from managing its own strategic planning process, a comprehensive, long-term plan, and a community-appropriate, manageable monitoring & evaluation system. Funders benefit by investing in a community-owned and well integrated food security program with a long-term impact. And, coffee buyers benefit from the high quality coffee that comes from producers who enjoy a better quality of life.
How Can I Help?
We are interested in building collaborations to connect coffee communities with knowledge, tools, and empowerment to overcome seasonal hunger. To donate, sponsor, or partner with Food 4 Farmers contact Janice Nadworny at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802 238-8207. Or, go to www.food4farmers.org to find out more.