Last week I began previewing the presentation I will deliver later this week at SCAA during the Hunger in the Coffeelands panel discussion, and focused on some of the leading food-based causes of hunger. Today I look at some of the strategies that vulnerable farm families use to cope with hunger, and how these can create a dangerous and self-reinforcing cycle of need.
While each family in distress makes decisions in the specific context in which it experiences hunger, there is a remarkable convergence of coping strategies that transcends language, culture and geography. Around the world, families tend to make incremental changes in their behavior to stave off hunger and avoid ruin, each successive step mortgaging more future possibilities to meet present needs. While there is of course lots of variation from one experience to the next, a typical and common coping path might look like this:
Sell crops forward at a discount.
Take out loans that may take years to pay off.
Convert land use to higher-yielding production systems, often in ways that reduce biodiversity and soil quality and increase vulnerability to natural disaster.
Sell off assets, including household items, animals and even land.
Migrate in search of better opportunities.
Each of these steps represents a logical short-term strategy to meet acute immediate needs. Unfortunately, each one also undermines a family’s longer-term livelihood prospects and increases the likelihood of chronic hunger. (And as you might imagine, these measures also make it harder for coffee-farming families to continue to produce high-quality coffees, to say nothing of their ability to reinvest at the farm level in their ability to do so into the future.)