Like many people around the world, over a billion in fact, I start my day with a cup of coffee. I prefer filter coffee, strong, with a dash of milk and half a teaspoon of sugar – that will do me for a few hours…..until the next cup.
However, there is much more to a cup of coffee than milk, sugar and getting that smooth, dark taste just right. As coffee lovers will know, it is all about the bean. Be it from Guatemala, Colombia, Ethiopia or somewhere else, the bean is what makes good coffee.
But how does that bean get into my cup of coffee? Who is the person behind the bean that makes my coffee taste so good and helps me through a dark and cold Monday morning and what does their day and life look like? Right at the beginning of the bean journey is the coffee farmer and that is where Mercy Corps comes in.
Coffee is the world’s second largest export after oil, and a large majority of the world’s 2.5 billion small holder farmers work hard to produce this crop that is in demand. However, its popularity does not make the crop a safe bet for a smallholder farmer, the challenges they face are complex and varied: crop failure, disease, climate change and depressed prices all contribute to an unstable and insecure market. And, they are under constant pressure to produce better, higher yields and to drive down their costs.
Rigoberto, pictured above with his family, is a coffee farmer in Guatemala. He and his family typically get paid once a year for their labour and they are increasingly at risk of hunger and food insecurity. Their ‘thin months’ occur after the coffee harvest, between the months of May and August. During this time the family will make ends meet by eating fewer calories, consuming less expensive food or borrowing against their future coffee earnings.
Mercy Corps works with smallholder farmers like Rigoberto to improve their food security and economic stability. We train farmers to build crop resilience to disease and pests, and teach local producers about mitigation measures that will prevent their yield from devastation caused by climate change effects. We’re also helping farmers diversify their crops, improve farm and plant management and access markets to connect with new buyers.
All this doesn’t just mean that Rigoberto and other farmers like him will be able to grow more coffee for you and me, but they will be able to feed their families, educate their children, afford health services and contribute to building their community’s future.
Mercy Corps is a global humanitarian organisation working in more than 40 countries around the world to help communities survive and thrive. Over 90% of our staff are from the countries where they work and we partner directly with communities. We believe that even in the world’s toughest places, from rural Guatemala and Colombia to Ethiopia and India; people have the power to transform their own lives when they have the right resources.
So, when you sit down to have your next cup of coffee, think to yourself, what’s in my cup?
By Victoria Telford
Community Fundraising Officer
Mercy Corps, European Headquarters