Coffee crisis: FAO helps Nicaragua's small-scale growers
Seeds and basic tools for 3 000 of the worst-affected coffee producers
20 January 2004, Rome/Managua -- FAO will work with the Nicaraguan Government to assist small-scale coffee growers hit by the global crisis in coffee prices, the Organization said today.
FAO will help the country's authorities prevent food shortages among the worst-affected coffee producers and, at a later stage, will help them diversify their crops and produce more competitive varieties in the international coffee market.
Falling international coffee prices have damaged the economy of the Central American country, largely dependent on coffee, by reducing income, employment and food security for thousands of families in the rural sector.
Until recently, coffee cultivation represented some 30 percent of the agricultural sector's GDP, half of agricultural export earnings and a quarter of the country's total exports. Over the last year alone the percentage of national export has more than halved due to falling coffee prices on the international market.
With production expenses currently higher than commercial value and a credit system riddled with debt, many farmers have been forced to abandon their coffee plantations.
"Bearing in mind that coffee cultivation in Nicaragua accounts for almost a third of agricultural employment, the consequences of this crisis are devastating for a country where external debt is 10 times larger than the total value of export earnings," said Loy Van Crowder, FAO Permanent Representative to Nicaragua.
The country's authorities have requested FAO assistance to safeguard the food security of some 3 000 of the worst-affected coffee-producing families in the Matagalpa and Jinotega regions, where much of the country's coffee is typically grown.
In the Matagalpa region FAO will also assist the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to create an income-generating programme to improve and diversify coffee production, initially for those living in the Rancho Grande and El Tuma-La Dalia areas. These programmes will then be introduced in other regions.
Black coffee and black beans
In order to prevent food shortages, FAO will distribute some 110 000 kilos of black bean seeds, 270 000 kilos of fertiliser and 9 000 basic tools to 3000 of the worst-affected coffee producers and their families, a total of approximately 17 000 people.
Black beans are a staple part of the diet in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan variety of black bean is increasingly in demand both in the country and throughout Latin America.
It is hoped that by the end of the project each farmer will have planted just under a hectare of black beans for their own consumption and to sell locally, a method which aims to open the way towards much-needed agricultural diversification.
New markets, better products
Nicaragua cultivates the Arabica variety of coffee bean and produced the so-called washed coffee (wet-processed). Lesser varieties of this type of coffee compete directly on the international market with coffee like Robusta made in other regions, such as northern Brazil and Viet Nam, with better cost structures and less vulnerability to market fluctuation.
A large proportion of the country's coffee harvest is a less-competitive so-called "lowlands coffee" variety, grown at some 800 metres above sea level.
The international crisis in global coffee prices has highlighted the need to diversify production - be it alongside or instead of coffee - to balance out the risks of growing solely one crop and the need to grow coffee varieties able to perform better on the international market.
FAO will provide assistance to the country's authorities in drawing up an income-generating programme to change and diversify coffee production towards more competitive varieties.
Pilot projects will be launched both in the Rancho Grande and El Tuma-La Dalia regions of Matagalpa and will benefit some 2 000 small and medium-scale coffee producers, who mainly belong to cooperatives who grow their coffee in the lowlands.
These pilot projects will serve to plan an expansion of the programme to other similar coffee-growing areas of the country.
The programme will be funded nationally and additional support will be provided by international funding institutions.
Nuria Felipe Soria
FAO Information Officer
(+39) 06 570 55899
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