Honey Is Making Life Sweeter for Coffee Farmers

By Janice Nadworny

When Food 4 Farmers started working with coffee farming communities in 2011, the reason was clear: coffee income alone was simply not enough to put food on the table year round for most farming families. This income gap was laid bare when, in 2012, coffee leaf rust started making its way through Central America and Mexico, and farmers lost as much as 80% of their harvest. More farmers left their farms in search of work, to earn enough to keep their families fed and their children in school. They realized they lacked a long-term strategy to deliver reliable supplemental income closer to home, and better prepare them to weather future crises.

Over time, coffee has become the main source of income for many farmers in Latin America. Locally produced fruits, vegetables, and protein have become scarce in many rural communities. Families use their coffee income to buy processed, packaged foods, rather than grow their own. They may keep a small plot of beans or corn, but not enough to rely on, much less to sell. Food 4 Farmers has been working with coffee cooperatives and farming associations to build safety nets for families who need healthy food and diversified income, in ways that complement coffee farming. Beekeeping is proving to be a key strategy.

In our partner communities, coffee farmers who start new beekeeping businesses can harvest honey and earn income in their first year. In fact, after only one year of honey production, these new beekeepers report that instead of looking for work elsewhere to supplement income, they’re staying on their farms – and selling honey and other bee products.

Beekeeping delivers important benefits to coffee-producing families and communities. Healthier honey replaces processed sugars. Bee products like propolis and pollen can improve health in remote communities without access to doctors. Pollinators stimulate coffee plants, improving yields and quality. And, “origin honey” is starting to emerge as an exciting new specialty product. This is great news for farmers, their communities, and the specialty coffee industry.

Food 4 Farmers is now working with industry partners in coffee and honey to connect honey producers with buyers, so coffee farmers can develop direct relationships and further strengthen long-term prospects for their new businesses.

If you’d like to find out more, come to Booth 2905 at the Global Specialty Coffee Expo. On Friday and Saturday, Food 4 Farmers will be sampling honey from coffee-growing communities in Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. Glory Bee will be at the booth, sampling their delicious Coffee Blossom Honey from Chiapas, Mexico.

Janice Nadworny is co-director for Food 4 Farmers and has served as a member of the Sustainability Council since 2009.