Strengthening Farmers in a Holistic Way Makes Them More Resilient to Crises
How did coffee farmers in Uganda and Central America cope with the COVID-19 pandemic? What helped them alleviate their situation? And how can they be prepared for future crises? This was the topic of the panel discussion “Stronger After the Crisis – Resilience in Coffee Farming” at the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2022 in Turin. Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice Chairman of the Lavazza Group, Claudia Muñoz, Technical Coordinator at the implementing partner Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) Central America, and Victor Komakech, Regional Project Manager at HRNS Uganda were live on stage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. During the lockdown, smallholder coffee farming families faced their own specific challenges. They experienced food insecurity due to limited access to goods and price increases. Transportation stopped, leading to reduced availability of workforce and inputs like seedlings or fertilizers. If available, inputs became more expensive, lowering the farmers’ earnings from coffee sales. This placed additional pressure on a livelihood situation that is already vulnerable to low productivity levels, the effects of climate change, and damages caused by pests and diseases. Aside from economic constraints, the situation was exacerbated by social problems, such as increased cases of domestic violence or teenage pregnancies.
"In Central America, the storms Eta and Iota occurred during the pandemic, adding to the general situation of crisis. This increased food insecurity and poverty in farming communities even more."
It was observed during and after the pandemic that certain aspects of the approach of International Coffee Partners (ICP) were able to alleviate the situation for coffee farming families. Obviously, families who participated in ICP projects were able to react to and mitigate challenges posed by the pandemic. ICP follows a holistic approach aiming to improve the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farming families through various aspects. “The idea of ICP is to transfer skills and competencies to the farmers”, explains Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice Chairman of the Lavazza Group. “We support them in becoming more entrepreneurial, resilient to the hazards of the market, and financially stable.” ICP’s work includes support with the formation of farmer organizations, training in best agronomical practices, climate change adaptation, and gender equality, and it strengthens youth and the intergenerational dialogue.
"The overall goal is for the coffee farming families to get better and more stable access to the market and improve their livelihoods."
One part of ICP’s strategy is the promotion of diversification on coffee farms. Under the training, farmers in Honduras start intercropping with avocado, lime, or banana, e. g. “This gives them more food security“, reports Claudia Muñoz. “We also promote agroforestry systems and the production of organic fertilizers in order to decrease the production costs – all with the goal to increase the farmers’ income and reduce their vulnerability.” Other aspects of ICP’s work on the ground are site-specific climate change risk assessments and climate action plans to increase the farmers’ resilience to climate change related events.
In order to produce higher qualities and quantities of coffee and thereby increase their earnings, ICP is training farmers on sustainable farming practices. Victor Komakech, Regional Project Manager at HRNS Uganda, points out another important factor: “We support the farmers to organize themselves in farmer organizations and cooperatives. This helps them to attain better prices in the market.” The organizations also provide extension services and agro-inputs to the individual farmers. And they help to get better conditions in purchasing fertilizers, seeds, etc. and to get loans.
"It is important to bring the farmers together. They sit together, they talk to each other, they guide each other – this is what makes them stronger."
Obviously, coffee-producing countries remain quite fragile when it comes to tackling international crises. Why is that so? “This is related to the dimension of the coffee farmers. The vast majority of them are very small farmers with portions of land of on average no more than one hectare”, explains Giuseppe Lavazza. “This is why ICP is so committed to trying to reinforce the supply chain of smallholder coffee farmers, to strengthening farmer organizations, and helping them become more independent and even more diversified in terms of risk. Because total dependency on coffee is a big constraint to these players.” That is why, especially over the pandemic, ICP tried to help farmers diversify their activities and production.
Crises can be health-related, they can be caused by war, nature events, or economic changes such as the current global inflation. It is therefore important to strengthen farmer communities while including all the different aspects of their realities. After more than 20 years of ICP projects, successes, failures, and learnings, Giuseppe Lavazza has an idea of what it needs to make farmer families in coffee growing regions more resilient: “Flexibility, reactivity, and global cooperation among the public and private sector could be the key to our success in the long run.”
A number of aspects can make smallholder farming families more resilient in the face of crises:
- Diversified crop cultivation can prevent families from food insecurity.
- Joining farmer organizations helps farmers to organize themselves and support each other.
- Sustainable and innovative agronomical practices can make farmers more independent from inputs and increase productivity.
- Training in gender equality helps to balance unequal power levels and better distribute responsibilities and tasks.
- Intergenerational family businesses provide for constant workforce availability and continuity in farm management.