Partnering for Impact: The Coffeelands Food Security Coalition
Imagine knowing that for several months every year, your family will not have enough food to eat. This is the situation faced by more than 600 million people—70% of the world’s hungry—who starve not as the result of warfare or natural disasters, but because at certain times of the year they can neither afford nor produce enough food to feed their family. Worldwide, seasonal hunger is especially acute among small farm households, who often receive only one annual paycheck for their crop. Long before the next harvest, they have run low on money and stored food, with little opportunity for paid employment unless they leave their farm. 
Seasonal hunger is disturbingly prevalent among coffee farmers, even those paid higher prices for Fair Trade or organic coffee. The full extent of the problem only recently became known as a result of studies commissioned by coffee firms, and an awareness campaign was launched within the industry. However, the scale of the challenge was enormously daunting—what could a single business, no matter how innovative or dedicated, do to solve a problem that had foiled the best efforts of national governments and global NGOs? No single actor possessed the knowledge or resources necessary to end seasonal hunger, but combining the talent of nonprofit organizations with the funding and reach of multinational coffee firms offered a way to build on proven solutions.
Rick Peyser from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters had been working on seasonal hunger for a few years. He recognized the magnitude and complexity of seasonal hunger in the coffeelands, and knew it was an issue too big for one company to tackle alone. Rick personally reached out to a handful of colleagues in coffee and invited them to an initial meeting in Portland. The group quickly decided that there should be shared action on hunger in the coffeelands. Our idea isn’t to start a new “thing,” but rather to connect and support many of the efforts underway — there are so many good projects by coffee companies, nonprofits and other partners — that could benefit from broader industry support. — Shauna Alexander Mohr, Coffeelands Food Security Coalition Coordinator.
The resulting Coffeelands Food Security Coalition comprises five industry partners — Starbucks, Farmer Brothers, Green Mountain, Counter Culture and Sustainable Harvest — and two nonprofit organizations, Mercy Corps and Aldea Global. Mercy Corps, a client of the PSU Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, will manage global implementation. Sustainable Harvest, a graduate of the PSU Social Innovation Incubator, will lend expertise from previous food security projects they have developed and delivered around the world. The pilot program in Jinotega, Nicaragua will train 150 women and their families to increase their incomes and crop yields through better financial management, improved agricultural practices, and greater civic engagement. The goal is not only to help farm families overcome seasonal hunger, but also to help them become more resilient in the face of natural disasters and climate change.
Impact measurement will play a critical role in understanding how to create the best outcomes for participants and their families, according to Mercy Corps Senior Development Officer Jennifer Schmidt:
During the start-up phase of the program, the team will develop a detailed monitoring and evaluation plan to establish indicators to measure program success against an established baseline. Throughout the project, local collaboration will be critical — including local participation in monitoring and evaluation activities, whether they be surveys, focus groups or other methods. In addition to providing quarterly and annual progress reports, at the conclusion of the project Mercy Corps and Aldea Global will commission a final evaluation (endline) which will document the project’s impact and provide direction for how public sector, private sector and civil society actors can incorporate our findings into future food security programs.
Demonstrating effectiveness will be essential to launching similar projects in other regions. Equally important will be the work of helping potential industry partners understand that supplier food security is not only a moral imperative, but an inceasingly important element in the success of their own businesses. Pam Kahl, Director of Marketing at Sustainable Harvest, explains the link:
If farmers can’t adequately support themselves and their families, they will be forced to leave coffee for other income-generating opportunities. Farmers with enough income and food are able to reinvest in their crops to produce higher quality beans. Financially stable co-ops can invest in infrastructure that fosters greater traceability. And the combination of the two means a more reliable supply for roasters who — given the growth in consumer demand — are increasingly competing for the best quality product. Stable livelihoods among coffee farmers at origin are critical to the quality of product and ultimately the sustainability of the supply chain.
When coffee farmers and their families have enough to eat, the positive effects are felt not just in their own communities, but throughout the global coffee community. The Coffeelands Food Security Coalition is an important example of the partnerships necessary to create real benefits for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and a model for a more just and responsible relationship between supplier, business and consumer.
 Vaitla B, Devereux S, Swan SH (2009) Seasonal Hunger: A Neglected Problem with Proven Solutions. PLoS Med 6(6): e1000101. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000101
By Jacen Greene, Ames Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship at Portland State University