Coffee farms fight world povertyCoffee is the world’s second-favorite drink, only behind water. In the U.S., Americans drink more than 580 million cups of coffee per day. Worldwide, more than three billion cups are consumed per day. To support the world’s love of coffee, many developing countries rely on their coffee-growing industries supported by small farmers. The majority of these small farmers, unfortunately, live in impoverished conditions. With the popularity of coffee and the market, there is a way that coffee farms can fight world poverty.

An Unsustainable Business

Small farmers produce about 80 percent of the global coffee supply. These farmers, known as smallholders, are defined as “owning small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labor.” An estimated 25 million smallholder farmers produce the world’s coffee supply. Unfortunately, they earn less than 10 percent per pound of the sale value of their coffee. Combined with the added costs of production, this quickly becomes an unprofitable business.

With the current situation being so hard economically, more and more coffee farmers have moved out of the industry. The past couple of years have brought drought and an increase in crop diseases like “coffee rust.” Coffee prices have dropped to a 12 year low.

Not only are farmers unable to support themselves and their families, but there are also a number of other challenges that have pushed them out of the coffee growing business. The environment in which coffee grows best requires a high altitude that is usually in remote and mountainous areas. This limits access to markets and adds the cost of transportation and middlemen. Changing weather conditions and lack of environmentally sustainable practices along with weak management and poor training have led to the inefficiency of coffee production.

In the department of Risaralda in Colombia, lies a small coffee farm known as a “Finca del Café.” Here, there are 10 hectares of land dedicated to the growth of Arabica coffee, a type of coffee that does best in the high altitude. The winding path through the Finca reveals the complex process of coffee growing that takes years of time. The farmer, who learned to grow coffee from his grandparents, expressed the unsustainability of the coffee business in 2019. They had to turn to other sources for revenue such as capitalizing on tourism of the area and building conference buildings.

Is Fair-Trade The Solution?

Despite the current situation of coffee production, the demand for the drink is increasing. If the current trend continues, there is predicted to be a shortage by 2050. In order to help small farmers and the coffee business, many companies are turning to fair-trade. According to the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics, “the promise of the fair-trade movement is that coffee growers in poor nations will receive a higher price for coffee if it is produced in better working conditions with higher wages.”

Unfortunately, no solution is perfect. Fair-trade impacts farmers by artificially raising the sale price of coffee, targetting production and not poverty. Other initiatives that focus on coffee farmers’ operations and management have shown more success. NUCAFE (National Union of Coffee Agribusinesses and Farm Enterprises) works to facilitate services for Ugandan coffee farmers while having them take ownership of their crops. In Colombia, coffee farmers are investing in digital tools to better manage their farms and transactions.

Coffee and Culture

There are many coffee farms in Colombia’s Cafetero region facing these issues. While some are forced to give up coffee due to the lack of profit, others try to maintain the culture of coffee growing. Coffee farms like the aforementioned “Finca del Cafe” make it their purpose to inform others of the coffee-making process and also to bring awareness to the problems modern coffee farmers are facing.

Local coffee is sold all around the region and coffee is a large part of Colombia’s larger society. The problems encountered by coffee producers can ultimately change Colombia’s culture, a country that prides itself on its coffee.

– Margarita Orozco
Photo: Flickr

Cocaine in Colombia Poison
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, a research arm of the World Health Organization, published a report on March 20, 2015 categorizing glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world by volume, so its new label has created turbulence across science and industry. While experts, governments and industry groups debate the study’s merits, poor farmers in Colombia may experience the most drastic fallout from the IARC report. Meanwhile, cocaine in Colombia receives a break from U.S. production curbing strategy.

Quickly following IARC’s declaration, the Colombian government suspended the aerial spraying of glyphosate. Since 1994, aerial spraying has been part of the U.S. strategy for curbing the production of cocaine in Colombia. In the last 20 years, 4.34 million acres have been sprayed, costing U.S. taxpayers roughly $2 billion.

Although defying U.S. interests, the U.S. Department of State is recognizing Colombia’s sovereignty to implement its decision. How this will affect anti-drug campaigns in the country remains to be seen.


Glyphosate Spraying and Cocaine in Colombia


Vanda Felbab-Brown, a global security specialist with the Brookings Institution, believes “Aerial spraying is politically controversial, costly and causes a tremendous amount of counterproductive side effects such as destroying legal crops, negative environmental effects as the chemical washes into streams, and alienating coca farmers from government authorities.”

A large cost has also been borne by farmers in regions where coca, the main ingredient in cocaine, is grown. From 2001 to 2012, the Colombian government processed 7,800 claims of crop damage as a result from aerial spraying. For the moment, the department handling these claims will have a break, and poor farmers in Colombia’s rural regions will experience less crop damage and a healthier environment.

Colombia’s decision to change tactics will open the door for alternative drug fighting policies and development strategies. These must fill the void that experts believe will be created by the termination of the spraying program. The incentives to grow coca are still strongly in place: the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime figured that cocaine was fetching roughly $2,500 per kilo back in 2013.

Alternative drug policies exist and are effective. The Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean, has outlined factors that need to complement an anti-drug campaign. Among these factors, the existence of alternative livelihoods plays a central role. Without other options, eradication programs will push farmers deeper into poverty. Implementing alternative and sustainable income generating activities makes coca production less attractive to farmers and shields them from a business decision that is subject to the whims of global drug policy.

The moratorium on glyphosate spraying comes as a relief to those living in targeted areas and provides an opportunity for sustainable development in the region.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Brookings Institution, International Agency for Research on Cancer, LA Times, Nature, NY Times 1, NY Times 2, US Embassy, Washington Office on Latin America, Washington Office on Latin America
Photo: MercoPress

education in columbia
In the past decade, resource-rich Colombia has risen to become one of the second world’s emerging powers. Its resource production and role in global trade have increased rapidly, and in turn, education is in the process of reform. While education in Colombia has improved in recent years, the government is continuing to make reformative change.

Only 37.2 percent of young Colombians continued their education past high school in 2010. In response, the government made a goal for half of young Colombians to continue their education after high school by 2014. College degrees have been shown to make a significant difference in individual incomes: Colombians who get bachelor’s degrees generally earn about 3.5 times more than those who only graduated from high school.

The Colombian government formed the Everyone Learns program in 2012, which focuses on elementary students in public in schools in the country’s poorest areas. Everyone Learns is primarily geared toward mathematics and language and has reached approximately 2.4 million students. Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo lead the program, which selected more than 3,000 of Colombia’s best teachers to bring in another 90,000 in the countrywide initiative.

Colombia is very focused on improving early childhood education. The country and its neighbor Ecuador have joined with Italy and the United Nations to support their desire for new childhood development goals to be included in the Millennium Development Goals. The countries are primarily interested in increased and accessible programs in early childhood education.

In a 2012 report titled Education for All, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) explained that the rapid growth of Colombia reveals existing inequalities in social class, gender and ethnicity, which is aggravated in large part due to a lack of access to education. The UNESCO examination reports that while Colombia has a good adult literacy rate, there is a low rate of education among children and an even lower index in post-secondary studies.

While many students in wealthier households might have access to education, those from families living in poverty often have less accessibility to schools. Forty-two percent of children from the poorest households start late, as opposed to the 11 percent who start late from more affluent families.

From when they begin school on into secondary school, the large majority of students from wealthier families have access to education, whereas about only half of youth from families in poverty attend school. “Colombia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Latin America, but growth is volatile, affected by conflict and discrimination,” the report said.

Colombia is in the process of evolving: the disparities revealing themselves as Colombia develops have left some of its poorer citizens with less access to education. However, the government is focusing on making change and is promoting initiatives to increase accessibility to schooling.

– Julia Thomas

Sources: OECD, World Bank, Colombia Reports
Photo: The Guardian

Traffic accidents account for 1.24 million deaths globally every year while estimates put that number at 3.6 million by the year 2030. In developing countries, this projection would put traffic deaths ahead of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and many other common causes of death, according to a Global Burden of Disease study.

Those dying in road accidents are typically young, male and living in poverty.

Roughly 50% of global traffic fatalities occur in developing countries, and according to Jose Luis Irigoyen, a World Bank traffic safety expert, the costs of such a high number of road deaths are a “poverty-inducing problem.”

He estimates that low and middle income countries lose 1 to 3% of their GDP on road fatalities, which Irigoyen says could counterbalance the billions given in aid money to these developing nations.

The UN General Assembly in 2010 adopted a resolution that established a “Decade of Action for Road Safety,” its goal to stabilize the number of road fatalities and then reduce them as much as possible. The resolution estimates that 5 million lives could be saved during this time.

A Washington Post article on the topic of road fatalities highlighted four countries with particularly infamous driving records. In Indonesia, an average of 120 people die in road accidents every day. “When a jumbo jet crashes, it’s big news,” World Bank transport specialist Mustapha Benmaamar states. “But here, these people die in silence.”

Indonesian figures represent roughly two plane crashes per week.

Moreover, a surge in motorcycle use has largely contributed to a massive increase in the number of road deaths—from about 8,000 per year in 2002 to over 16,500 in 2007, and doubling once more in 2010. Motorcycles accounted for 60% of those fatalities.

Benmaamar asserts, “You reach a tipping point when these deaths are perceived not as something accidental, but as a result of a problem that has to be tackled. Only then will you see the fatalities start to drop. Indonesia has not reached that point.”

Experiencing even more road deaths per day than Indonesia is Nigeria, which has the worst driving figures in Africa. There are about 34 road-related deaths for every 100,000 people in the country, according to a 2013 World Health Organization report.

Nigeria’s Federal Road Safety Commission points to high speeds as the culprit behind so many traffic fatalities, though poorly maintained roads, loosely obeyed traffic laws and lax driver’s license requirements contribute to making the country one of the most dangerous places in the world in which to drive a vehicle.

On another note, traffic accidents cause three times more deaths in Colombia than its internal armed conflict. However, the country’s situation has improved over the years. Since the mid-1990s, road fatalities and accidents have decreased significantly, falling from 7,847 deaths in 1995 to 5,502 in 2010. Progress appears to be stalled, however, as fatalities in 2012 increased by 3% from the previous year.

With a goal of achieving better outcomes by 2016, Colombian leaders have begun to focus on addressing and rectifying the nation’s top cause of traffic-related fatalities—motorcycles and their passengers, accounting for 70% of road deaths in Colombia.

Helmet laws, strict license and road regulations, better motorcycle safety and a mental shift away from seeing road accidents as merely “accidents” could eventually curb the number of global traffic deaths.

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: Washington Post, Colombia Reports
Photo: The Promota

In Colombia, thousands of workers, famers and miners have joined together in a national strike to protest the government’s economic policies. Colombian farmers claim that they cannot compete with subsidized crops imported from the United States and European Union. This week, nearly 30,000 people marched in Bogotá to protest government policies, trade deals and alleged exploitation of regions. Other reports estimate that more than 200,000 workers have blocked many of the country’s major roadways.

The agrarian strike in Colombia, as it is being called, involves a broad coalition of the agrarian industry, labor unions and much of the country’s rural population. The strikers are challenging an economic model that has produced widespread poverty and income disparity while allegedly rewarding multinational corporations and large agribusinesses that benefit from Colombia’s “free trade” agreements.

Javier Correa Velez, the head of a Colombian coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, said, “We’re not trying to overthrow the government or support one armed group or another, we just want solutions to our problems.” Among these problems, increasing fuel and fertilizer costs as well as government neglect of rural areas have decimated Colombia’s agricultural industry.

In terms of income inequality, Colombia is the seventh most unequal country in the world. It also has the highest unemployment rate in Latin America. There are more than 7 million Colombians living in poverty and 2 million of them are classified as living in extreme poverty. 40 years of armed conflict between the government, rebel groups and drug cartels has displaced many Colombians and left others without means to support themselves or their families. These indicators suggest that economic reforms are needed, and the agrarian strike may be a watershed moment for Colombian labor and poverty activists.

To date, the strikers’ efforts have resulted in some government action. Since February of this year, the government has responded with increased subsidies to coffee growers, providing more than $333 million. Some recent reports suggest that President Juan Manuel Santos may be ready to sit down and discuss the farmers’ demands, ending a long stalemate between the government and labor. This is a significant shift in the President’s rhetoric. Earlier in the year, he criticized the strike as an attempt to increase tension between the government and certain rebel groups with which the government has been negotiating peace agreements.

For now, strikers and government ministers remain deadlocked. But the farmers’ resilience and persistence has changed the tone of the debate and caught the attention of the international media.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: BBC News, Rural Poverty Portal

Dating as far back as the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, rape as a weapon of war has been prevalent in conflicts throughout the 1990s and continues to be used today.

A common misconception is that rape is simply a by-product of war. Sexual violence is certainly occurring in every conflict around the world but its role has evolved from an unfortunate effect of war to a tactic used to humiliate and control entire populations.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (UN Resolution 1820) in 2008 defining the use of sexual violence as a war tactic and calling for an end to impunity for those who perpetrate such acts. This resolution came too late for many, including the over 20,000 Muslim women and girls raped in Bosnia during the Bosnian War as well as the estimated 200,000 women and girls raped during the fight for Bangladeshi independence in 1971.

Sexual violence has become a common element of 21st century war. To be able to combat its prevalence, we must first understand the methods and reasoning behind its use.

Perpetrators utilize sexual violence in conflict situations for many different reasons. Rape can be used as a method of ethnic cleansing, as was seen in the Bosnian War. Serbian fighters raped Muslim women to produce Serbian offspring and thereby “cleanse” the population. During the Sudanese War, however, the Janjaweed militia typically used rape as a scare tactic to humiliate, intimidate, and punish the non-Muslim women and communities. Currently in Colombia rival groups are using rape and murder as part of a punitive code to strengthen control in specific regions.

Not only is rape considered the most invasive of war crimes, it has long-lasting consequences for entire communities and countries. Sexual violence during conflicts has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in multiple regions. In addition, mass rape has produced a new generation of young adults that are growing up with only one parent or as orphans because their mother was killed during the conflict. This has long-lasting ramifications for countries that will only be seen in the coming decades as this generation reaches working and reproductive age.

It appears that the use of rape as a war strategy will continue to be employed in conflicts across the globe as long as the culture of impunity surrounding this crime persists. Although the United Nations made sexual violence an official war crime in 2008, the International Court of Justice has yet to find efficient means to indict and prosecute the many thousands of people guilty of this heinous crime.

– Sarah C. Morris 

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, United Nations
Photo: The Wip

The World's Top 5 Refugee Crises

June 20th marked World Refugee Day, a day to honor the many people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence, or persecution.  Today there are 43.7 million refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide.   The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides protection and aid to 34 million of them.

Public awareness of these refugee crises often drops sharply after the initial news of the crisis wears off, but the crises themselves continue for years on end, with the toll of refugees climbing ever higher.  Here are the 5 largest refugee crises in the world according to the latest available data:

1.       Somalia- Since the Somalian Civil War in the 90s, Somalia has been a hotbed of humanitarian concerns and crises. Food crises and the violent insurgent group Al- Shabaab have only exacerbated the problems in the country, along with a large rise in piracy just off of the Somalian coast.  According to the UNHCR the total number of refugees and IDPs originating from Somalia numbers around 2.4 million.  The Somali government will hopefully regain control of its territory enough to sufficiently aid its refugees.

2.       Iraq- The US military invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq topped off decades of conflict in the country, including the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, and years of crippling sanctions.  The combination of these conflicts has put the UNHCR’s population of concern originating from Iraq at 3 million people.  The refugee situation there has been augmented as a result of the Syrian Civil War, in which many Iraqis who had fled to Syria are now choosing to return to their war-torn homeland to escape the Syrian violence.

3.       Sudan– The secession of South Sudan from its northern counterpart has helped quell the humanitarian crisis there, but the UN estimates a total of 3.2 million people in its total population of concern originating from Sudan.  Sudanese refugees have come from the conflicts in Khartoum, Darfur, the Protocol Areas, and Eastern Sudan.

4.       Afghanistan– Since the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, lack of security has been a continuous problem for the Afghan people.  Tribal violence and Taliban influence continue to displace Afghan citizens daily. The UNHCR puts the total population of concern originating from Afghanistan at 4.2 million people.

5.       Colombia– Though it is not often mentioned in the news, according to the UNHCR, Colombia has the largest total population of concern out of these countries: 4.3 million people.  Internal conflict has particularly affected the country’s indigenous population.  The effects of natural resource extraction and the armed groups involved therein have almost overwhelmed Colombian citizens.

Although it did not make the list of the world’s largest refugee crises, the situation in Syria represents the most rapidly growing refugee crisis.  The number of Syrian refugees is around 1.6 million currently, and the UN expects that to increase to 3.45 million in the next seven months.  The UN has also stated that it expects almost half of Syria’s pre-war population to require humanitarian aid by the end of 2013.

Though these conflicts fade from the minds of Americans after their initial impact, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to remember the situations these refugees are dealing with and to donate to a cause or pressure your elected officials to take action in support of these refugees.

– Martin Drake
Source: UNCR Country Profiles, ABC News
Photo: CWS Global