A recent report by the Arctic and Mountain Regions Development Institute (AMRDI) has confirmed that food security and illness continue to be major concerns among Nicaraguan coffee farmers and labourers.
CoffeeLives Brief 2017-2 is the result of an early 2017 survey of male and female coffee farmers in the Matagalpa and Jinotega departments of Nicaragua. 50 per cent of respondents had skipped work due to illness during the past year; 40 per cent of respondents had skipped a meal during the past year because they were unable to afford food; 33 per cent of respondents noted that hunger was the first or second largest factor impacting their health; 29 per cent of respondents reported having received some kind of official assistance.
Coffee farmers often refer to periods of food insecurity as ‘los meses flacos’ or the ‘lean months,’ which stem from the seasonal nature of coffee farming and the seasonality of incomes. A survey of Nicaraguan coffee growers in 2014 found that the mean number of lean months, annually, is 3.1.
AMRDI noted that recurring food insecurity has many negative health effects. The prevalence of undernourishment in Nicaragua in 2010, for instance, was 20.1 per cent. Food insecurity has significant implications for development more broadly as well.
Mental health disorders and other physical health problems including reduced immunity to diseases, which reduce productivity, are associated with food insecurity. In combination, these factors put downward pressure on household resilience – whether long-term in the face of climate change, or more acutely in the event of a household crisis, storm or severe drought.
More anecdotally, many of the coffee growers surveyed dedicated part of their land to growing crops other than coffee, partially for their own consumption, but primarily for the purpose of selling them for profit. This suggests that farmers are coping with food insecurity by seeking more reliable, and diverse sources of income, rather than growing food for sustenance.
Survey data also reveal major disparities in access to resources among the sample. Although 55 per cent of landowners reported that they had received some form of official assistance, only 23 per cent of non-landowners had.
“This could create a feedback loop in which those who are in a more advantaged position see their positions improve, while those who are more vulnerable see theirs deteriorate,” said AMRDI. “Although access to clinics and hospitals was fairly high in our sample many respondents noted that, even if they were sick, they often did not visit a clinic because they would lose that day’s income.
“Coffee farmers… are highly susceptible to climate change, and will require robust health, education, social networks, and access to decision-making in order to adequately prepare for and adapt to changes. Food insecurity and resulting malnutrition and illness are major impeding factors that will require specific and detailed responses by existing donors and the coffee industry writ large,” AMRDI concluded.