Karina and Christopher: Smallholder Farmers With A Strong Voice

“Stop using flipcharts, start digging” an honest statement from smallholder coffee farmer Christopher Mujabi from Uganda; a reaction that came on the heels of a question concerning the methodology of other sustainability projects in his region. That statement came during a dialog entitled: “An Unequal Pair: Coffee Industry Leaders & Farmers Discuss Their Needs & How to Align Them” at Specialty Coffee Association’s World of Coffee in Berlin. International Coffee Partner’s, (ICP) aim with producing this panel discussion was to bring industry leaders and smallholder farmers on one stage together, a rare occurrence at industry shows such as this. Christopher was joined by another smallholder coffee farmer, Karina Orellana from Honduras; Kathrine Löfberg, Chairperson of ICP & Löfbergs and Jörn Severloh, Managing Director of Neumann Gruppe. The panel was moderated by a longtime coffee consultant, Sara Morrocchi of Vuna Origin Consulting.

Defining farmer livelihoods had to be the crucial first step as it then allowed the participants to engage and highlight the challenges the sector is confronted with. It was therefore defined as ensuring that farmers are treated as equals within the value chain, decent earnings from coffee and that they are able to provide a sustainable future for their family. Jörn Severloh stated that “a farm needs to be regarded as a family enterprise.” Which highlights the importance that both sides, farmers and industry leaders, have work to do.

“It’s very important to have farmers involved in these discussions when it comes to topics of livelihoods, climate change, migration, and others because farmers can say what is happening in the field. Us farmers want to feel important and that we are being listened to.” Karina stated and then added, “because of this important discussion, we now have started a discussion that has the potential to create new ideas and hope.”

Challenges currently affecting the industry such as youth migration, Karina was able to provide deep insights by explaining, “there are several families from my cooperative who have abandoned their farms and migrated north because they have given up on coffee due to climate change and low prices.” This type of situation has led to an influx at the southern border of the US with Mexico. Kathrine and Jörn pointed out that work is still needed to provide more access to education, land, and financing for youth in rural areas. The role of ICP continues to be to work side-by-side with youth and communities to ensure attractive opportunities are there for the rising youth population. This means working with local organizations and business leaders to provide entrepreneurship training, startup capital, and additional services.

The panel also discussed how diversifying a farmer’s income by intercropping with bananas, mangos, beans, or potatoes, allows farmers to supplement their income and add vital nutrients or shade for their coffee crop.

Karina speaking to fellow smallholder farmers from Honduras at the World of Coffee in Berlin.

Christopher speaking during the ICP panel at the World of Coffee in Berlin.

“We have seen in my cooperative that climate change is affecting smallholder farmers; they can no longer solely rely on coffee anymore as their main cash source. So that is why farmers need to intercrop. The more you intercrop, the more a farmer can earn and thus save. Because once you harvest and sell coffee, you have the other crops throughout the year to provide income for such things as food, education, and more.” Christopher Mujabi, a smallholder coffee farmer from Uganda.

With the fruitful panel discussion, it has been made clear that industry leaders need to continue “stepping out of the boardroom and participating in these sorts of dialogues,” states Kathrine Löfberg. She adds that “roasters also need to do a better job at educating the consumers about where the coffee is coming from and showing the stories behind the bean.”

To further the dialogue, reach out and let’s start a discussion!

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