Global Coffee Director,
In the early 1990s, when Sandinista and Contra fighters laid down their arms in Nicaragua, many went back to work on coffee farms. A few years later and half a world away in Rwanda, returning refugees did the same. Today, coffee holds promise for farmers in parts of Colombia and Peru ravaged by civil war or the violence associated with the drug trade.
Our work with coffee farmers in a number of post-conflict settings in Africa and Latin America has shown that several factors related to how the crop is produced, processed and marketed make it particularly important in these situations.
A LITTLE INVESTMENT GOES A LONG WAY
Coffee growers don’t need much investment to produce a valuable crop that brings in badly needed foreign currency. That is especially important in post-conflict settings, where there is little lending available for agriculture and food processing. In South Sudan, where Nespresso, USAID and TechnoServe have partnered to help rebuild the coffee sector after the country’s war for independence, farmers did not need to purchase synthetic inputs to improve their productivity, and it cost only USD 5,000 to install a small wet mill to process the coffee in a community.
With modest investments, farmers can compete on the global market, and buyers in search of high-quality coffee will accept the potential risks and costs associated with sourcing from post-conflict settings. Importantly, up to 70% of the export price of coffee goes back to farmers – injecting money into the local economy and providing them the means to rebuild homes, invest in other productive assets or purchase needed inputs for food crops.
COFFEE TREES CAN OUTLAST CONFLICT
In times of conflict, when law and order break down, valuable assets like livestock tend to disappear. But because coffee trees can’t be easily carted off – and don’t need constant upkeep to survive – they’re more likely to remain standing on the farm when a conflict ends. In 1993, when TechnoServe began work on a USAID-funded project to boost agricultural production in a region of northern Nicaragua economically decimated by war, it found that many farms still had their old coffee trees, giving farmers an important asset.
COFFEE TOLERATES POOR INFRASTRUCTURE
When conflict damages the transportation infrastructure in a country or region, it can be very difficult for farmers or intermediaries to get crops to market in a timely manner. Coffee, however, doesn’t face the same kind of time pressures once it has been processed locally.
PARTNERING FOR RECOVERY
Nevertheless, coffee growers in recovering regions often need support, and the public, private and non-profit sectors all have important roles to play in providing it. Private-sector buyers provide profitable markets for farmers and much-needed investment, while donor funding and technical assistance help to de-risk those investments and make coffee farming more profitable.
Partnerships that bring these elements together can have an important impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and accelerate economic recovery after conflicts.