Ending “thin months” may require looking outside of the coffee industry. And more to the point, it may require building relationships with people outside of the coffee industry.
As someone working in honey, I was a newcomer when I spoke at Let’s Talk Coffee 2016. But I didn’t just give a presentation there. I also met people passionate about the same thing as me: providing producers with more stable incomes. People who have, in fact, been working towards my vision for years – but I’ve lacked their reach, and they’ve lacked my resources.
Beekeeping may be the solution to income instability. Credit: Beethinking
Climate Change, La Roya, and Sustainable Solutions
The coffee industry is hovering on the fine edge between thriving and perishing. Coffee leaf rust (la roya) has hit Latin American coffee communities hard. Countries have seen entire farms wiped out, leaving farmers with little chance for survival on their own land. The effects of climate change are being seen in Latin America in the form of changing rainfall and temperature seasons.
In 2014, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) found that coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico have an annual mean income of US$624 a year. This leaves many families facing food insecurity between harvests.
Coffee leaf rust (la roya) can destroy leaves, thereby weakening trees and devastating crops. Credit: Cafe Nakua
Where Does Honey Come Into This?
Beekeeping and honey production offer one way to increase a family’s income, and so reduce the “thin months” faced by many coffee farmers. Food 4 Farmers estimate that it can lead to an additional US$400 a year for those families in Chiapas, Mexico.
What’s more, beekeeping for honey production and pollination solves many social and environmental challenges. New Scientist reports that coffee production can double when plants are purposely pollinated by honey bees. Beekeeping also provides an alternative to deforestation, should coffee farms fail. And honey production does not require land ownership, making it an option for young people and disengaged members of the community.
Honey can provide producers in Chiapas, Mexico with an extra $400 a year. Credit: Beekeeper’s Naturals
The Co-operative Producing Coffee Blossom Honey
I work at GloryBee, a second-generation family business of beekeepers turned honey importers. And in 2011, we discovered a coffee co-operative in Chiapas, Mexico which had something special going on: Coffee Blossom Honey.
A light amber in color, with a warm tropical flavor and slightly crystalized texture, this honey is unique. You can taste the origin, maybe not in the cup, but in the spoon.
They are not the only coffee co-operative to also produce honey. Nor are they the only co-operative to produce high-quality single origin honey like this. But they are the link that led us to learn about coffee production and producers’ financial insecurity.
Our supplier explained to us that the co-operative branched into honey after years of struggling to make ends meet on coffee alone. And over the years, as la roya has continued to hit their farms, the co-op has been able to continue thriving.
GloryBee’s Coffee Blossom Honey. Credit: Let’s Talk Coffee/Sustainable Harvest
The GloryBee Plan: Collaboration, Education, Expansion
I want to see more coffee producers thrive, and I know beekeeping can help them do that. Connecting an importer and distributor like GloryBee, an NGO like Food 4 Farmers, and the coffee-producing communities facing food instability is a key step.
We’re experts in honey packing, honey importing, honey quality, and honey sales. Food 4 Farmers’ mission is to facilitate the implementation of sustainable food security programs in coffee-growing communities. They’re already working with farmers and coffee co-operatives to teach beekeeping and honey production. By collaborating, we help their mission come into fruition.
In 2017, we want to build even more relationships in the coffee supply chain. We want to find more co-operatives to work with, and more roasters and cafés to buy both the coffee and the honey.
And then we want to expand our program.
There’s more demand for honey than there is supply. If commercial beekeeping were to spread to more coffee-producing countries, I think we would see numerous benefits. Trees and flowers would become a food source for bees, more valuable intact than their lumber would bring. Young people, women, those who can’t afford land, those who have lost a crop, they would be able to remain on their land with an income from their honey.
Shandy Carroll speaks at Let’s Talk Coffee 2016. Credit: Let’s Talk Coffee/Sustainable Harvest
Building relationships outside our personal silos is perhaps the only way to make a positive change in the world. Our supply chain reaches across borders, around the world, to hundreds of products produced with the hard work of thousands of people. And working together across industries – coffee, honey, and more – can help create prosperity for all those people.
Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.
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