February 2, 2017

How The Coffee Industry Is Working to Improve Health Care


Where there’s health, there’s a future.

There’s been a lot of discussion on how coffee-producing communities’ quality of life can be improved: stabilizing  coffee prices, shorter supply chains, associations and cooperatives… but we can’t just focus on industry specifics. We also need to consider health care.

Last month I visited Guatemala and spoke to Silvia M. Perez Penabad, Special Projects Manager at Funcafé, about health care in coffee-producing communities – and what the industry is doing to change that. Here’s what I learned.

Spanish Version: Cómo está Trabajando la Industria de Café para Mejorar la Atención Médica

Health care

Members of Tomastepec Cooperative receive routine medical services at a Funcafé event sponsored by Behmor. Credit: Kathy Espinosa

Health Care in Guatemalan Coffee Communities

According to a 2016 report by USAID, Guatemala’s healthcare is marked by inequality. And it’s those living in rural areas who have the least access to medicine, qualified doctors, and hospitals – ones such as coffee-producing communities.

And it’s been getting worse. Last year, the country spent 2.6% of its GDP on health care (Al Jazeera), down from 6.2% in 2014 (World Bank). Even with a growing GDP of about 3% a year, this represents a decrease. In contrast, the US spent 17.1% of their GDP on it in 2014, while the average worldwide was 9.9% (World Bank).

In 2016, Al Jazeera also reported that Guatemala began terminating contracts with NGOs providing health care three years ago. Community health workers stopped receiving stipends and now must choose between not providing health care – or paying for their neighbours’ medicines themselves.

So how does this affect coffee? And what is the specialty industry doing to change it? Read on to find out.

Health care

A young girl has her vision tested at a Funcafé event sponsored by Behmor. Credit: Kathy Espinosa

Healthy People are Productive People

Proper health care is not just a human right, as inscribed in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s also key to the prosperity of coffee-producing communities.

A producer and their family depends on good health as much as they depend on good weather or stable market prices. How else will they be able to pick coffee from morning to night on steep slopes? How else will they rake drying coffees? And how else will they earn an income to not just pay their bills but also invest in the farm?

When we are healthy, we perform better. And this is no different in coffee production than it is in the café or the office. Health care is a part of sustainability – both social and economic.

coffee producers kids

The children of Tomastepec Cooperative receive routine medical services at a Funcafé event sponsored by Behmor. Credit: Kathy Espinosa

SEE ALSO: Making the Case for Guatemalan Coffee

Can The Coffee Industry Provide Sustainable Health Care?

It’s easy to think that we don’t have the power to effect sustainability. But there are ways that the coffee industry can support health care in producing regions. And one of these is by leveraging relationships – relationships between national coffee organizations, non-profits organization, private organizations, volunteers, and the community itself.

The Guatemalan Coffee Foundation for Rural Development (Funcafé) has provided 64,796 health care services to producing families. Founded in 1994 as a part of Anacafé, Guatemala’s national coffee association, Funcafé provides general and emergency medical services, ophthalmology, dental services, cervical cancer screening, and more. They also work on nutrition, food security, and education.

Funcafé provides a lot of these services at cooperatives as part of monthly events, working with partners. I saw the process for myself at Tomastepec Cooperative in December, where dental check ups and eyes tests were provided to the families of the cooperative members. Specialist organizations provide the services – Silvia M. Perez Penabad tells me Funcafé often work with Clinicas Cristianas Hospitalarias. And Behmor, a manufacturer of roasters and batch brewers, also helped supported the event by providing funding and resources.

Yet not all support should come from outside the community.

Health care

Children of Tomastepec Cooperative receive dental check ups at a Funcafé event sponsored by Behmor. Credit: Kathy Espinosa

Using The Community’s Resources

It’s important to examine the resources the community has – because if health care comes from within a society, it’s both quicker and more sustainable. When locals are provided with training, it is an important step forwards for the community. And if they then train others, it can have a multiplying effect.

Virginia Aguila is originally from Jalapa, Guatemala. She’s been a midwife in the village of La Laguneta for 32 years. And now she’s a part of COOUXSA, one of the organisations Funcafé works with. She’s been on training courses for midwives to develop her understanding of reproductive health and childbirth. As a qualified member of the community, she’s helping in the fight against maternal deaths and early childhood illnesses.

What Can You Do About Health Care?

If you have the resources and funding to support national coffee associations and NGOs, there are many who can work with you to provide better health care. If you’re part of a producing community, see if your association or cooperative can also leverage relationships or organize trainings.

And if you’re just a consumer? You can also help support a healthier coffee community. Firstly, you can support Funcafé through the Amazon Smile project. But you can also ask about the communities your coffee comes from. Demonstrate an interest in socially sustainable coffee. Because you may not have the resources of governments, or the funding of private organizations, but the entire supply chain is centred around your purchases.

The health of a community is linked to its development. If we want to see a strong coffee industry, we need to invest our time and effort where it matters the most – the producer.

With thanks to Silvia M. Perez Penabad, Special Projects Manager at Funcafé, for her input and advice.

Please note: Behmor is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind. 

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