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31. “Food Security Solutions”

Tomorrow the SCAA Symposium opens.  Two days later, the full 2010 SCAA Expo gets underway.  To their enormous credit, organizers of both events created some space to discuss issues of hunger in the coffeelands and what the industry might do about it.  For its part, Sustainable Harvest has been engaged in some serious reflection on the question of its role in addressing this issue, and seems to have found an answer.  The company yesterday convened Food Security Solutions 2010 in Nicaragua for 9-12 June — an extraordinary four-day, farmer-focused event designed to provide actionable information to coffee families fighting hunger.

Sustainable Harvest created a space for informal discussion of this issue during the 2009 edition of its Let’s Talk Coffee gathering in Nicaragua.  The forum was facilitated by Rick Peyser from Green Mountain, who has been a real leader around this issue.  (He addresses it tomorrow the context of the Symposium and is scheduled for a repeat performance during a panel discussion on Saturday.)  I was at Let’s Talk Coffee to help him with this task, but it was hard — we planned for no more than a dozen people and more than a hundred showed up.  They came from all the links in the chain and beyond — farmers, roasters, NGOs, academics, etc. — to share their experiences, learn more, or both.  If there was any doubt about the relevance of the issue, it was surely dashed by that response.

I understand that a lot of industry actors have been reluctant to engage around this issue because it is not a traditional area of private-sector engagement, but rather something more commonly regarded as the work of governments or development agencies.  I have tried to suggest in my posts here over the past week that the issue of hunger in specialty coffee chains is a legitimate industry issue, and that coffee companies can and should consider investment in community-driven development processes in the coffeelands as part of their business models.  To its credit, Sustainable Harvest has chosen not to run from an unfamiliar issue, but rather to engage it decisively, even despite the open questions and lingering uncertainty about its role — and that of the industry more broadly — in addressing this issue.

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