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6. Why does hunger have to be so confusing?

Last month I tried to make some onerous development terms a little less elusive and a little more transparent, but I am afraid I may have acheived the opposite effect.  I can appreciate that turning a concept as basic as “hunger” into “availability, access and utilization” might seem confusing.  But these sub-concepts make it possible to target the specific sources of want with more precision in the design and implementation of anti-hunger initiatives.  Here are a few examples of how this is being done in the coffeelands.

  • Increasing availability of diverse and nutritious foods.
    Within the specialty industry, perhaps the best-publicized efforts to expand food availability are the mushroom projects scattered around the coffeelands in Guatemala, Mexico, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and probably lots of other places, too.  Introducing mushroom spores to coffee pulp (and corn, appropriately, in the Mesoamerican countries to which it is native) is a relatively easy way to produce high-protein foods with the readily available “waste” generated by coffee processing.

    Beyond the celebrated mushroom projects, traditional development programs work all over the coffeelands to increase the availability of food through technical assistance to improve: productivity of existing crops through the adoption of improved farming practices and varieties; diversity of crops in the farm system, often through the incorporation of new, high-nutrient varieties of fruits (citrus), vegetables (carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beets, leafy greens, etc.), nuts (breadnut), etc. into farms that are generally dominated by coffee and staples like corn; microlivestock management to introduce and expand small species that can be effectively managed in upland farming systems (not much room for cattle ranching on 2-acre shade-grown coffee farms) to increase the family’s intake of animal source proteins (chicken, eggs, cuy in the Andean altiplano, etc.).

  • Expanding access to adequate amounts of diverse and nutritious foods.
    The certifications and quality premiums that are so central to the industry’s approach to sustainability contribute to improved access, since they bring more revenue to smallholder farmers households than conventional trading arrangements, presumably bringing more good food within reach.

    In most cases, coffee is only one of several sources of agricultural income, so farmers are left to seek market opportunities for their other crops, few of which offer as robust a market for price premiums based on certifications or quality differentials.  There is an enormous number of agro-enterprise projects in the coffeelands for other forest crops that complement coffee.  Honey is a favorite from Mexico to India, and lots of places in between.  Cacao is taking off in lower elevations where coffee and cacao can thrive.

    But for most families with just a few acres of land, agricultural income is not enough to survive.  Non-agricultural activities are necessary, too.  One leading option is rural tourism, which generates income for coffee communities and creates a financial incentive to maintain the agro-forestry system in which the coffee grows.  The best efforts at increasing access to food combine agricultural and non-agricultural income generation to diversify income streams and reduce risk, like these projects at Pangoa and CEPICAFE in Peru.

  • Improving utilization of adequate amounts of diverse and nutritious foods.
    The logic of access is this: if farmers have more money, they can buy more, higher-quality food for their own development.  But it doesn’t always happen that way.  Farmers may make more money, and continue to eat the same monotonous diet.  Or they may buy high-nutrient foods to supplement what they grow on the farm, but their bodies can’t use it because they have an underlying illness.  Lasting progress against hunger needs to combine increased availability and access with nutrition counseling, the development and distribution of cookbooks in local languages that provide guidance in preparing nutritious foods, ongoing community-based health programs to avoid preventable disease.  My experience suggests that this is generally the domain of non-governmental organizations — few cooperatives and even fewer roasters are investing here.

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