Colombian coffee growers face a dire situation. The impact of climate change, producing heavy rains and coffee rust, soil degradation from decades of intensive growing practices, the high cost of production, and lower coffee prices have created a crisis.
In February and March 2013, Food 4 Farmers conducted a participatory food security diagnostic with 3 coffee-growing organizations in Colombia, to understand causes and effects of food insecurity and possible strategies to address it.
There, we witnessed the scars of Colombia’s difficult past. Many communities we visited lacked basic infrastructure, and are still affected by guerrilla and paramilitary activity and drug traffic. To reach some of the extremely isolated communities we were working with, we had to travel on dirt “roads” that left us wondering how in the world anyone could physically manage getting coffee down from those mountains.
Our co-op project partners were COSURCA, a second level co-op comprised of a group of 12 associations in southern Cauca; Asociacion de Productores Organicos: Nuevo Futuro, a small coffee association led by Luz Elva Chacon, an organic farmer and a woman with incredible vision and love for the organization; and in-country co-op liaison InSitu, the NGO arm of exporter Inconexus. First, we conducted workshops with COSURCA member-coops ASPROSI, ASPROSUCRE, and ASPROBALBOA, then headed to Nuevo Futuro. Finally, we held workshops with co-ops AGROSEC and AGRONEVADA.
At these workshops, co-op members created drawings of households that are either food insecure or food secure. They illustrated components of a food-insecure family. The drawings show badly built homes, a large family with very few resources, and low coffee yields. Although the drawings varied by participant group, they all showed common denominators- small farms, isolation, lack of public services, and poor crop management.
Members then collectively developed a list of strategies for food security. Last, we worked with them to set realistic goals for sustainable food security.
Times are tougher than ever for coffee-farming communities. In some places, we saw boxes of fresh vegetables going bad because producers were not able to find transportation to bring it down the mountain.
Many communities lack basic services, like water and electricity. Because of the bad road conditions and lack of public transportation, residents go to the market infrequently. Some members reported only going to the market every two months, so they must rely in foods that can be stored for long periods of time, instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.
For many co-op children, primary school may be hours away. Producers told us that because the school is so far away their children didn’t go. Those that do attend must live in other towns with relatives, and parents may see them once a week. But, we also learned about the entrepreneurship taking place on coffee farms.
At each co-op, farmers showed us some of the innovative ways they are diversifying food production for income or consumption. Some use a technique of planting food crops “en asocio” (planting several crops in the same area), a well-known agroecological practice. We learned that curies (guinea pigs) are an important source of protein for families, their droppings used as compost for coffee plants or home gardens. COSURCA is producing blackberry juice, which they process at their facilities, delicious and without sugar, and sell locally.
One of the main problems affecting Colombian coffee-growing communities is the migration of young people from rural agricultural communities to urban areas. Nuevo Futuro member, Alexander, is a proud young producer trying to overcome the huge challenges of producing coffee; including low prices, coffee rust, climate change, and lack of institutional support.
At the end of the workshop he told the other members, “I like this workshop because I will go back to my farm and imagine how can I improve it. And I encourage you to do the same. We can dream what we want!”
Contact Name: Janice Nadworny
Web Site: www.food4farmers.org
Location: Hinesburg, Vermont, US
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Phone Number: 802.238.8207