Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands

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Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands

Waterbury, United StatesVarious, United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our mission is to eradicate the seasonal hunger known as “Los Meses Flacos” by improving the quality of life for families in our supply chain through household-level programs that reduce poverty and hunger.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We are working to eradicate the phenomenon known as “los meses flacos,” or “the thin months,” in which families in coffee growing communities experience three to eight months of hunger between harvests when money and food are scarce. Families often cope by eating less, buying cheaper foods, or borrowing against future earnings. The lack of food and proper nutrition affect the health of communities and the productivity of farmers and contributes to urban migration. It’s also more difficult for farmers to grow their business, children to learn in school, and families to develop solutions that address hunger’s root causes.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We convened non-profit partners and the communities in our supply chain to understand the factors influencing food security and, at the household level, develop actionable solutions. What emerged was a strategy that included crop and income diversification tactics – offering families that depended on coffee for their livelihood choices that helped increase their economic security. Some were taught to farm fish, cultivate mushrooms and produce organic honey for personal consumption and to sell. They were educated on food preservation techniques to make the (literal) fruits of their labor stretch further. Diets that consisted of primarily beans and rice shifted to include nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. Balanced nutrition is leading to improved energy levels, heightened productivity and stronger immune systems – and happier, healthier individuals mean stronger communities.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

One example is the story of Juana Valle Lao in El Coyolar, Nicaragua. Her family farms coffee on a small plot of land near their home and struggled annually with seasonal hunger. On my first visit, the coffee plants were under-pruned and unfertilized. While growing, the plants could have been more productive. Through a food security project sponsored by GMCR, Juana was introduced to bokashi (organic fertilizer) and how to produce and use it to help her coffee plants grow healthier – generating more income. She also learned to grow various fruits and to produce products like marmalades that she could sell and use to feed her family. On a subsequent visit to Juana’s farm, I immediately noticed the health of her coffee plants – the bokashi was working. She led me to a small, previously fallow, plot on her property. An elaborate system of stakes and wires made the plot resemble a vineyard, but instead of grapes, passion fruit hung, basking in the sunlight. Juana told me that because of us, her passion fruit was now yielding more income than her coffee and that she no longer experienced food insecurity. Her story is just one of nearly 50,000 others.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The key differentiator of our approach versus others’ is the relationships we build with farmers and the uniqueness of the solutions we help them develop. We are standing not only by them in these efforts, but literally with them in the fields and at home. We welcome a level of awareness around the issue that will bring our peers into the mix, and are encouraging them to get more involved. Current conditions encourage urban migration, threatening the very existence of the industry’s collective supply chain. Eradicating seasonal hunger would be beneficial for us, the industry, coffee farmers and consumers.

Founding Story

In 2007, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. chose to ask: What is life really like for a farmer who earns income by growing coffee, often on less than three acres of land? This question was a departure from the usual industry inquiries on productivity and quality. With the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, we interviewed farmers in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Guatemala and learned that 67% experienced three-eight months of extreme food scarcity annually. We were surprised at the pervasiveness of the issue – with strikingly similar stories shared across geographies. Based on the results, we reevaluated our criteria for grant-making in communities and focused on funding projects that directly touch farmers and their families at the household level with a focus on human and economic development.
About You
About You
First Name


Tell us about yourself/your team.

I am Director of Social Advocacy and Supply Chain Community Outreach for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, where I have worked for 25 years. I am a past President of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the world’s largest coffee trade association, have served six years on the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) Board and currently serve on the Boards of Directors of Coffee Kids, Food4Farmers and Fundacion Ixil.

My team assists families and communities where our products originate by improving their quality of life through need-based programs that reduce poverty and hunger, and support health and environmental sustainability.

What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?

I am an intrapreneur because I have dedicated my career to understanding and assisting people throughout GMCR’s supply chain, and I’ve brought what I have learned to the company to inform its policies and decisions. Through volunteering months in coffee communities, I understood the importance of organic and Fair Trade coffee and brought these certifications to the company, which with other programs have strengthened our supply chain communities. GMCR is now the largest purchaser of Fair Trade coffee in the world. Working from the ground-up in communities, and from the inside-out in the company, can facilitate lasting impact.

About Your Organization
Company Country

, VT, Waterbury, Washington County

Primary country where this project is creating social impact

, XX, Various

Additional countries or regions

Latin America – Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, Africa – Ethiopia, Ken


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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Scaling (the next step will be growing impact on a regional or even global scale)

The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?

This household level focus is innovative because we have supported solutions that take into consideration the unique factors that influence each family’s circumstances surrounding their challenges with food security. We did not enter the communities in our supply chain with a pre-packaged solution intended to work for everyone. Our approach creates a sense of engagement and ownership among community members and a greater likelihood that these solutions will be sustainable.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

In Fiscal 2011, we:
• Started or expanded 20 food-security projects that reached approximately 19,000 families in our supply chain;
• Supported the production of After the Harvest: Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands, a documentary exploring the challenge of food insecurity in coffee-growing communities;

In Fiscal 2012* we:
• We brought food-security support to approximately 20,000 families around the world via income diversification and home food production, benefitting a total of nearly 300,000 people in 13 countries since 2008;
• Raised awareness and rallied the coffee industry around food-security issues, and continued to promote and screen After the Harvest.
• Saw significant decreases in the number of program participants who reported food insecurity.

*Our official Fiscal 2012 CSR report will be issued in March, 2013.

What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?

GMCR funded its first food security project in 2008 that included 250 families. To date, our support has touched more than 50,000 families or approximately 300,000 individuals in 13 countries. Over the next three years, we will continue to focus on working with small-scale coffee farming families in our supply chain to help an additional 60,000 families (or approximately 350,000 individuals) become food secure. During this time we will also focus on delivering better access to potable water, healthcare, and educational opportunities, to improve the quality of life and reduce the high level migration to urban areas from these communities.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

The thin months form a well-established “season” for coffee farmers, but were widely unknown within the coffee industry. To generate awareness, I traveled to Nicaragua and Chiapas, Mexico to capture the stories of small-scale coffee farmers who described their challenges and solutions, resulting in the documentary “After the Harvest: Fighting Hunger in the Coffeelands.” Following the release of the film, a cross-industry coalition formed to address food insecurity and is now funding its first food security project in northern Nicaragua. In addition I co-founded Food4Farmers and co-authored a new book which helps inform readers of challenge of the “thin months.”

What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?

Approximately 70 words left (570 characters).

How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?

A healthy, vibrant supply chain is imperative to our business success. GMCR faces two demographic challenges: an aging coffee farming population and migration of young people to urban areas. The average age of coffee farmers is 50+. With Internet access, young people perceive a better quality of life in urban areas and are migrating. By improving life at the household level, we can improve and sustain our businesses.

Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.

GMCR has historically given a portion of pre-tax profits to social and environmental initiatives in communities where it does business. Approximately half of that funding is allocated to support projects within the company’s supply chain, so as our company grows, so does the capital available for supply chain initiatives.

We also leverage the supply chain community outreach team, which is responsible for identifying challenges and solutions within our supply chain through regular communication with our farming partners and regular face-to-face visits. In addition, the supply chain outreach team works closely with our coffee procurement team to identify new suppliers.

Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.

Supply chain health is a priority among all departments within the company, and we benefit from this support, from top leadership down and across all of the company’s worksites nationally.

We also rely on our relationships with nonprofit partners that help us do this important work on the ground, in the communities where our growers work and live.

What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?

In addition to funding provided by GMCR, the supply chain outreach team has received support from internal stakeholders including the company’s leadership team – Board of Directors, CEO, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility – the procurement team, and the communication team, which was key in producing “After the Harvest” and in communicating this work to the company and beyond.