An estimated 820 million people around the world don’t have enough to eat.
The majority of them live in low-income rural areas – including millions of small-scale farmers who rely on meager income from commodity crops like coffee and cacao. Volatile markets, low prices, and limited options have left them struggling to put food on the table, year after year.
Seasonal hunger, in particular, is a persistent and insidious form of food insecurity that affects generations of people in a geographic region.
Unlike famine, this period of food scarcity is a quiet cycle of predictable starvation that occurs between harvest seasons, when the previous year’s food stocks have dwindled, food prices are high, and income has run out.
Different regions have specific terms for this period: Los Meses Flacos or the thin months, seasons of hunger, times of silence, or the months of water.
“Ending hunger means finding sustainable ways to help vulnerable farming families access and utilize food, diversify income, improve access to markets, and develop successful food security and livelihood strategies.”
The Roots of Seasonal Hunger in the Coffeelands
While it’s often thought that conflict and natural disaster are the biggest drivers of undernourishment and malnutrition, chronic seasonal hunger is the most common cause. In his foreword to the book, Seasons of Hunger, economist Robert Chambers wrote that “seasonal hunger is the father of famine” and that “any development professional serious about poverty has…to be serious about seasonality.”
Ending seasonal hunger is not just about producing more food
Unlike others who experience famine, people suffering chronic seasonal hunger may have access to food, but lack an adequate supply or enough healthy food that supplies all the vitamins and minerals they need to function. As a result, they suffer from weak immune systems, and are more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Children who suffer from chronic hunger are particularly vulnerable, developing more slowly — both mentally and physically, their growth stunted.
The causes of seasonal hunger vary and include a lack of access to food, high food prices, lack of adequate long-term storage for food, environmental instability, and lack of diversified crops. The effects of seasonal hunger are also becoming more pronounced as the effects of climate change increase. A 2016 study estimated that the effects of climate change on food production could contribute to over 500,000 deaths per year by 2050.
What is Food Security?
“Food security” means that all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Previously, it was believed that access to food was the only requirement for food security, but that perspective has changed over time to include four main pillars of food security.
These four pillars include:
There is consistent availability of ‘food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture.’ Availability of food can be disrupted by civil unrest, natural disasters, or catastrophic changes in the global food system. According to World Bank projections on the effects of climate change, 2 million people could be displaced by 2050. Much of this has to do with access to food.
People have sufficient income or resources to purchase or barter for appropriate and nutritious foods. Access to food can be direct by the ability of people to produce their own food, or indirect by their capacity to buy food at the marketplace.
Food is properly prepared and stored, and people have adequate knowledge of nutrition and child care techniques. The flood of cheap, calorie-rich food in many of the communities where coffee is grown has contributed to food insecurity by replacing traditional diets and crops with nutrient-deficient types of foods.
Access, utilization, and availability must be considered over time. Stability looks at the resilience of a community’s food supply and the effects of weather conditions, political instability, and economic factors. Seasonal hunger is a clear symptom of instability. The volatile market, over reliance on coffee for income, and rising food prices all result in unstable access to food.
The Pillars of Food Security & Our Work
The ‘4’ in the Food 4 Farmers name refers directly to the four pillars of food security. We work to find effective, lasting solutions to hunger by developing sustainable food security programs with community partners in coffee-growing regions. Each partner has different challenges, which is why we focus on deep assessment of their needs, then work with them to determine which pillars need to be addressed, and how to address them.