Grow Ahead teamed up with coffee cooperatives, CESMACH & PRODECOOP, leaders to raise $7,000 for an Assessment of On-Farm Diversification Strategies in Smallholder Coffee Systems in Mesoamerica. Both coffee cooperatives, CESMACH in Mexico & PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, identified the three issues needing immediate attention to be food insecurity, climate change and gender equality. The event brought farmers, cooperatives, and researchers from Nicaragua, Mexico and the United States together in Estelí, Nicaragua for a week from, November 19th-23rd of 2018.
Diversification of production for coffee farmers is essential for climate resiliency and creating new income streams, since research shows that up to, 50% of current coffee producing regions will no longer be suitable for production by 2050.
Using Participatory Action Research for Collaborative Change
The main objective of the Farmer Exchange was to analyze how different strategies of diversification affect food security, climate change and resilience, livelihoods, gender equality in the home and community, regional scales, and the relation of sustainability to coffee based agro-food systems. Utilizing Participatory Action Research allows for the incorporation of multiple voices in analysis of diversification strategies for smallholder farmers within different contexts (like Mexico and Nicaragua) as well as voice recommendations for future tools. This creates an integration of local farmer knowledge as well as scientific knowledge and recognizes and values both in agroecology.
With presentations and discussions from a range of cooperatives, researchers, and community organizations covering gender policies, cross-cultural experience and knowledge dialogues, diversification strategies that contribute to climate resilience and gender equality, as well as trips and visits to producers in various communities around Estelí, Nicaragua; this event took a holistic and participatory approach of addressing diversification tactics in smallholder coffee systems.
Alejandra Guzman, CAN Coffee Diversification Mexico Project Coordinator, expressed that, “CESMACH farmers returned to Mexico with high motivations, inspired, and animated by the young producers and the work their counterparts steward in Nicaragua. They felt a closer understanding of the projects goal in a very cooperative space. It was empowering from their own identities as women farmers, coffee farmers, and facilitators/promoters, as Latin Americans. It was apparent to farmers that this project is not about receiving funds or materials, but rather a space they shape and an approach to seed for other projects they will direct in the future.”
It is important to note, as one of the facilitators stated, that Participatory Action Research is about “real, authentic participation, of all actors, that recognizes the differences of power and gender; these topics are part of the conversation and the work”. Farmer-to-Farmer trainings provide space to address ever-changing issues of adaptation as climate change impacts farmer communities and using a participatory approach is essential to connect scientific and academic knowledge in a way that empowers communities and traditional knowledge.