The Coronavirus puts high pressure upon the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmer families around the world. International Coffee Partners (ICP) reacted at a very early stage to the pandemic by informing coffee communities how to protect themselves but also by adapting project activities to the evolving situation. Farmers not only feel immediate impact on crop cycles, cashflow and food security. They also fear long-term effects. Besides immediate digital support via phone calls, messenger services and videoconferences, focus of ICP project activities turned to looking at how to ease those possible long-term effects. Like for Maribel Paz, who gets ICP’s support in Honduras:
“Since the beginning of COVID-19, ICP has not left our side. Even if it has been virtually, the ICP team has been very mindful of our needs. They have been calling us frequently to check upon us, given us recommendations on what to do with our farms during this time and guided us how to implement the farm processes in light of these difficulties”, says Maribel Paz.
She runs a ten hectares large coffee farm in San Pedro, Copán, Honduras together with her mother. She has two sons of 26 and 12 and a daughter of 20 years. The coffee farm is diversified with plantains, oranges and lime. But with COVID-19 nothing is as it has been before.
“All activities related to the agronomical management of the farm that we were supposed to carry out over the past two months are stopped.” – Maribel Paz
That includes fertilizing, pest control management and hiring labor to manage the farm. Mobilization restrictions and shortage of income following the Coronavirus reactions are the main reason for that. The biggest challenge for the family is juggling with most urgent needs and the available resources. They need to save the limited income in case a family member will be infected with the Coronavirus and they would have to pay for healthcare. But that means they cannot invest into fertilizing and pest control, which might lead to a weak harvest with smaller cashflow and food insecurity during this and the coming crop-cycles. “Our biggest fear is to not being able to generate enough income to cover our food expenses and farm investments that are necessary for a good harvest”, says Paz.
Better together as a family during the COVID-19 crisis.
In the end it is not only about money and cashflow. Strict movement restrictions and limited transportation options make it difficult for them to buy their inputs. Suppliers who sell these products are becoming hard to reach. “ICP has been communicating with farmers and exchanging information so they know where coffee farmers stand at the moment”, says Co-Country Manager of ICP’s implementing partner Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS), Pablo Ruiz.
“In the ICP-project sites we are identifying what actions to take so farmers can continue to generate revenue despite the crisis. Currently, we are encouraging and guiding farmers to diversify their farms with other crops such as beans and corn.” – Pablo Ruiz
We are all in this together
Although, the talking around the globe is about “social distancing” people are getting closer together than ever – even if it is only digital. “ICP and HRNS value me as a human being and truly care about our well-being”, says Maribel’s son, Noé Adolfo Paz. “They have been here for my family and supported us with health recommendations to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and technical guidance to support us in appropriately managing our farm since the very beginning.” As ICP is made up of family-owned companies, the organization is well aware, how important it is during this time of crisis that family members support each other and stay united. “ICP does not see me as a coffee farmer, but rather as a human being. Their work considers families, not just coffee. I’ve clearly seen it during this time, where coffee, is no longer the top priority”, says Maribel Paz.
Greater spacing gives room for diversification.
Maribel’s mother, María Marte Monge, says, that following the reaction of ICP to COVID-19, their family is much more oriented now.
“At first, we felt enormous uncertainty with a lot of questions that we were afraid to answer. What’s going to happen? Are we going to lose the farm? Might we lose our jobs? How am I going to feed my family?” – María Marte Monge
However, solidarity in the end is good for positive emotions but does only partly help to overcome tough reality. With COVID-19 many unexpected challenges arose. Some of them could be mitigated by the Paz family with the learnings from previous ICP-projects. So, they see benefits of crop diversification and spacing between rows of coffee. “Farming families are able to use these crops for personal consumption and take advantage of the space left between each row of coffee to plant new crops such as beans and corn that are needed for a healthy diet”, says Ruiz. Also, the money saving methods trained in ICP-projects, support the families now.
Next steps: What needs to be done after COVID-19
However, nothing to rest upon. COVID-19 shows the importance to invest into the livelihood situation of smallholder coffee farmer families. “We need to increase working on crisis preparedness. Years ago, it was the coffee rust crisis, and today it’s COVID-19”, says Ruiz. “It’s a matter of time until food crises’ or economic crisis’ hit. Instead of reacting, we should work more on preparing farmer families for the next challenge and be ready when it comes.” Strengthening viable sources of income together with saving and better financial planning, establishment of crop diversification against food insecurity and strengthening the internal structures of farmer organizations are some of the activities that could support this approach.
The Paz family remains committed as ICP does – to their farm and to learning from each other. “We have ICP’s support and they will continue to guide us towards the best alternatives we need to take right now. If we handled the rust crisis, we will defeat COVID-19”, says Maribel Paz.
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...