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New Research Shows Coffee-Farming Communities Experiencing Fewer 'Thin Months'

Image credit: CIAT

Keurig Green Mountain has announced the results of a 2013 scientific study, Thin Months Revisited.  Conducted in partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group (ARLG) of the University of Vermont, the study reexamines the livelihoods of smallholder coffee-growing families in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua to understand how farmer welfare has changed, compared with a 2007 baseline study in the same countries. The 2013 results show marked improvements in food security since 2007, which may be partially attributed to initiatives from companies such as Keurig over the last few years.

The 2007 study tried to determine the state of affairs for coffee farmers in Latin American communities where the company sources its coffee. More than 100 smallholder farmers were interviewed then and many of the same participants were interviewed again for the 2013 study.

Los meses flacos ("thin months") refers to a several-month period when coffee earnings run out before the next harvest, resulting in a period of seasonal hunger. In 2007, researchers had found that seasonal hunger was a major concern for the company's agricultural supply chain. 67 percent of the coffee farmers surveyed were experiencing extreme food scarcity for as much as three to eight months of the year.

"These results had a sobering effect on us and on many others in the Fair Trade coffee movement," said Rick Peyser, Director of Social Advocacy and Supply Chain Community Outreach at Keurig Green Mountain.

The company responded by establishing a strategic, research-based and farmer-advised approach to combat the issue. Initiatives were designed to increase home food production, improve food storage capabilities, provide farmers with tools and training to diversify income, expand access to market and increase coffee yields from better growing practices.

Over the past three years, the company says it has directed more than $15 million toward food security programming in its supply chain, with a focus on the three research countries. It also galvanized the coffee industry behind this issue through a film called After the Harvest.

"The new study offers irrefutable evidence that the situation had improved for most families over the last six years, particularly with respect to food security. Across study locations, the average number of thin months has declined from 3.81 in 2007 to 2.83 today," said Peter Läderach, a CIAT scientist and one of the research leaders.

The report cites examples of families who increased their income sources by incorporating food crops into their farming. The company believes that with the addition of diverse crops that can be consumed or sold, families are more resilient to extreme changes in coffee prices and have steadier incomes through the year.

"Diversifying into other crops helps smooth out household income across the year and makes families more resilient to a volatile coffee market. A more resilient farmer will continue producing coffee and supply us with the quality and quantity we need to grow our business," Peyser explains.

"Our study was able to provide a direct link between the projects that Keurig Green Mountain funded and a reduction in the number of thin months experienced by some families in Chiapas and Nicaragua,” said Ernesto Méndez, UVM Professor and Lead of the Agroecology and Rural Livelihoods Group (ARLG). “In Chiapas specifically, families participating in food security projects decreased the number of thin months twice as much as those who did not participate,"

Keurig Green Mountain has set a goal of engaging one million people in its supply chain to significantly improve livelihoods by 2020.

However, despite improvements, Keurig acknowledges that food security and other aspects of social and economic development remain a serious issue in the region and farmers must also contend with the growing pressure that climate change has put on the natural resources needed to grow food and coffee.

In 2012, Keurig committed more than $5.6 million in grants to food security programs, benefitting over 200,000 individuals throughout their supply chain in partnership with NGOs such as CIAT, Catholic Relief Services, Heifer International and Save the Children. And earlier this year, it also committed $11M to NGOs Charity: water, Global Water Initiative, Raise-the-River and American Rivers, which are working to solve the global water crisis. The company has also announced that in late 2014, it will convene water experts at the first annual Keurig Green Mountain Water Summit in Vermont to stimulate conversations, collaboration and problem solving to address the global water crisis. 


Aarthi is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands. She has nearly a decade of experience in creating and managing content across diverse media (web, video and print) for nonprofits and media houses in the US and India. Aarthi holds a… [Read more about Aarthi Rayapura]


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