The Thin Months

Sep 8, 2011

I recently watched a film titled After the Harvest: Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands.  The film premiered at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Symposium and Exposition in Houston this April.  It showcases the chronic seasonal hunger that effects small scale coffee farmers in Central America.   This seasonal hunger more than likely effects a majority of small scale coffee farmers throughout the coffee belt.  This seasonal hunger is so prevalent in Central America it has its own name, Los Meses Flacos, or the thin months. (After The Harvest)

Depending on the location, the thin months can last anywhere from three to eight months.    This is a series of months where these families do not have enough food or income to maintain their health. Children suffer illness due to lack of nutrition from inadequate amount of food, which can be linked to development and growth issues.  The lack of nutrition has also been linked to cervical cancer in women.    

How does this happen? How can a farmer go hungry? Through the years small scale coffee farmers have abandoned diversifying their land in order to grow more coffee. They became too focused on potential earnings with hopes of buying their food security.    However, the vast majority of these farmers are only paid once they have delivered the coffee.(After The Harvest)   They must wait until the next coffee harvest in order to receive additional income.  By not having a diversified farm, these farmers only rely on the coffee harvest to supply their yearly income.   After a coffee farmer is paid he is able to maintain the family for a few months, however after that the income is quickly depleted.  This comes at a terrible time as it coincides with the rainy season in Central America.  During this time food staples skyrocket in price.  If a farmer wanted to buy the basics when the prices were lower, they have no way to securely store the food away from the rain and rodents.  With families income and food supply almost gone within a few months after the coffee harvest, they are forced to stretch their food supply and income until the next coffee harvest.   This results in families eating less, stretching the food they do have to very thin supplies, or borrowing money and going into debt in order to eat.

The road to ending this seasonal hunger in coffee producing communities is long and complex.  However, many of these farmers are learning how to bring back crop diversification as well as raising livestock, incorporating silos to store excess grains, and reintroducing home gardens to help alleviate hunger during these thin months.  In addition, many initiatives like Heifer International and Save the Children are taking place to try to help these families and communities.  BUNN is interested in these initiatives for obvious reasons.  Our ability to deliver a quality beverage depends on the vibrancy of all farmers in the food supply chain.

For more information or to watch the film "After the Harvest: Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands" visit http://aftertheharvestorg.blogspot.com/p/home.html

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