According to research by the University of Vermont (UVM), smallholder coffee producers in Mesoamerica experience food insecurity from 2.5 to 8 months of the year. Usually during the rainy season, landslides and blocked roads reduce access to food markets, coffee profits decrease, and households consume their food reserves. UVM’s findings ultimately showed that coffee farmers who also produce staple crops or engage in additional activities like beekeeping to develop supplementary sources of income may be more food secure and economically resilient.
As a result, Café Ecológico de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas S.C. (CESMACH), one Mexican coffee cooperative that participated in the study, began implementing crop diversification projects in 2021 to increase members’ food security and incomes. With support from Equal Exchange and USAID’s Cooperative Development Program, members have started to grow avocados; raise and breed pigs, poultry, and tilapia; and keep bees. Diversifying into these products allows members to have greater access to food and add more protein to their diets during periods of scarcity. It also allows members, whose incomes are subject to inflation and fluctuating coffee prices, to provide for their families’ basic needs.
For members of CESMACH, these projects also help them work towards food sovereignty: “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” The cooperative held food sovereignty and security workshops for members and their families to communicate the risks of consuming processed foods and promote foods that they can grow naturally on their farms. Members of CESMACH were also trained on how to use their homegrown products for raising animals, and how to utilize local resources to develop affordable, organic feed for chickens, pigs, and fish.
As these projects near completion, farmers are now more aware of the economic and health benefits of producing food themselves and have formed relationships through the projects’ training and exchange visits. Through gradual mindset change, farmers of CESMACH are shifting the way they think about and interact with their own local food systems.
This article was written for and published in USAID’s Locally Led Development Initiatives Newsletter- May 2022, under the Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation; Local, Faith, and Transformative Partnerships Hub.