Past Projects: International
Assessing Resilience in Coffee Dependent Communities
Lead(s): Martha Caswell & V. Ernesto Méndez,
Funder(s): Lutheran World Relief
The cases for this study included a diversity of partner organizations, as follows: 1) In Honduras, we worked with a project focused on diversification, food security and improved coffee production; 2) In Nicaragua, the project specifically focused on resilience aiming to integrate livelihood diversification, climate monitoring, and agricultural management to strengthen resilience capacities; and 3) In Haiti, the project targeted coffee renovation and income diversification to strengthen local capacity to respond to climate change, and building social capital in smallholder coffee cooperatives. Exploring resilience dynamics within three distinct environments and executed by independent local partners provided an opportunity for identifying characteristics that are unique to place, while a regional focus in Latin America supported comparison across sites to identify more generalizable trends and recommendations that are more broadly applicable. As such, guiding questions for this research included: 1) What challenges are these households and communities facing (i.e., what main categories of shocks and stresses do they identify)? 2) What resources can and do they draw on (i.e., what are the strengths and vulnerabilities of these smallholder farmer households)? 3) How are they currently responding to shocks and stresses (i.e., what are their coping strategies)?and 4) How are LWR projects changing/improving their resilience capacities?
Participatory Planning and Investment in Climate Change Adaptation for Small-scale Farmers in Central American Coffee Landscapes
Lead(s): V. Ernesto Méndez, Margarita Fernandez
Visual indicator assessment of soil erosion in small-scale coffee farms in Guatemala
Lead(s): Dana Christel
Diversification Strategies and Contributions of Coffee Income to Poverty Alleviation Among Smallholders in Norther Hueheutenango and Quiche Départments, Guatemala
Lead(s): Andrew Gerlicz
Masters’ Thesis, Coverdell scholarship recipient
Exploring agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty and climate change with smallholder coffee farmers in Mesoamerica
Lead(s): Margarita Fernandez, Ph.D.
PhD Dissertation, Keurig Green Mountain Fellowship
Agroecology and ecosystem services in a coffee landscape of Costa Rica
Lead(s): Sebastian Castro
PhD Dissertation, Earthwatch Fellow
Sebastian worked to explore tradeoffs and synergies between crop productivity and ecosystem services in intensively managed coffee agroforestry systems in the Los Santos region of Costa Rica. He combined farmer self-reported data, coffee plant productivity assessments, and vegetation and soil surveys to carry out an agroecological analysis of agroforestry coffee systems. Results showed that while coffee producers utilizing synthetic fertilizers achieved higher yields, the resulting excess nitrogen could be causing soil acidification and long term nutrient depletion. As well, field research indicated while generally coffee monocultures outperform integrated production, that within the agroforestry coffee fields in Los Santos region, coffee plants found in the vicinity of shade canopy plants bore more fruit when compared to those in isolated conditions.
Méndez, V. E., Castro-Tanzi, S., Goodall, K., Morris, K. S., Bacon, C.M., Laderach, P., Morris, W. B. & Georgeoglou-Laxalde, M. U.(2012) Livelihood and environmental trade-offs of climate mitigation in smallholder coffee agroforestry systems.pp. 370-381. In E. K. Wollenberg, A. Nihart, M. Grieg-Gran & M. L.Tapio-Bistrom (Eds.) Climate change mitigation and agriculture. London: Earthscan.
Castro-Tanzi, S., M. Flores, N. Wanner, T.V. Dietsch, J. Banks, N. Ureña-Retana and M. Chandler (2014) Evaluation of a non-destructive sampling method and a statistical model for predicting fruit load on individual coffee (Coffea arabica) trees. Scientia Horticulturae 167: 117-126.
Agrobiodiversity and food security in coffee growing communities of Nicaragua
Lead(s): Marcela Pino
Master’s thesis, Keurig Green Mountain Fellowship
Revisiting the “thin months”- a follow-up study on livelihoods of Mesoamerican coffee farmers.
Lead(s): Martha Caswell, V. Ernesto Méndez
Caswell, M., V.E. Méndez, M. Baca, P. Läderach, T. Liebig, S. Castro-Tanzi & M. Fernández (2014)Revisiting the “thin months”- a follow-up study on livelihoods of Mesoamerican coffee farmers. Policy Brief # 19. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT): Cali Colombia
Conservation, Agroecology and Livelihoods: Shade trees, Birds, and Farmer Decisions in Smallholder Coffee Cooperatives of Northern Nicaragua
Lead(s): Katie Goodall
This research is divided into three chapters, each exploring a different aspect of the coffee agroecosystem. In the first chapter, I investigate how shade tree diversity, abundance, and carbon stocks are changing over time. With the help of local assistants, I conducted tree surveys in four smallholder cooperatives of northern Nicaragua as part of a decade-long effort to track shade tree management. The second chapter explores bird abundance, diversity and community composition across these same cooperatives. Local field assistants conducted avian point counts in coffee and forest habitats. In the third chapter, I interviewed members of four cooperatives to investigate how cooperative members approach management decisions for coffee, forest, and household budgets.
Through this work, I found that shade tree density has decreased over time, but that diversity remained constant. Carbon stocks in coffee systems also showed a decreasing trend across the landscape, most likely due to the decreasing tree densities. Epiphytic plants increased as shade tree density decreased, suggesting either a change in management or improved habitat conditions for epiphytes. Bird surveys revealed that avian abundance is greater in coffee than in forest habitats, but that diversity across these two habitats is equal. Abundance increases with increasing canopy height as well as with mid-range canopy cover, suggesting that pruning and tree-cutting regimes affect bird populations. Interviews with farmers showed that members of different cooperatives manage their coffee differently, and that some of the factors members value for making farm and financial management decisions differ across cooperatives. These results suggest that local cooperatives and communities influence farmer decisions that ultimately influence the physical landscape. Global conservation initiatives should support local institutions to encourage the continuation of diverse shade trees, counter the pressure for producers to intensify coffee production, and optimize access to technical knowledge and resources across all cooperatives in this landscape. In this way, both biodiversity and smallholder livelihoods stand a chance at conservation.
Food security, agricultural management practices, and conservation in a Salvadoran organic coffee cooperative
Researcher: Katlyn Morris
This dissertation focuses on agricultural management practices and food security for small-scale -coffee farming households in an organic coffee cooperative in western El Salvador. Katlyn examined the political, economic, ecological, and historical underpinnings and implications of current food crop management regimes, as well as the contribution of food crops and income from coffee sales to household food security and livelihoods. The two most common proximate causes of food shortages were lack of income-generating opportunities to buy food and insufficient production of staple food crops. The broader implications of this research include that promoting fertilizer use for poor smallholders in developing countries may be an inappropriate solution for long term economic and environmental sustainability. This case shows that, while farmers enjoyed initial yield increases with fertilizer use, this has not proved to be an effective strategy for maintaining yields in the long term. Instead, ecologically-based, low-input practices are better suited to the needs of smallholders, which requires the redirecting of priorities and funding of extension programs and international agencies.
Morris, K.S., V.E. Méndez, & M.B. Olson (2013). ‘Los Meses Flacos’: Seasonal Food Insecurity in a Salvadoran Organic Coffee Cooperative. Journal of Peasant Studies 40(2), 457-480.
Morris, K.S., V.E. Méndez, S.T. Lovell & M.B. Olson (2013). Conventional Food Crop Management in an Organic Coffee Cooperative: Explaining the Paradox. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37(7), 762-787.
Agrobiodiversity, Conservation, and Food security among small-scale coffee farmers in El Salvador
Meryl Richards, Ph.D.
Meryl explored interactions between farmers’ livelihoods and diversity of cultivated plant species and landraces among smallholder shade coffee farmers in El Salvador. The research was conducted using a mix of natural and social science methods, and was driven by the following objectives: understanding the factors and livelihood contexts that motivate farmers to conserve agrobiodiversity; analyzing how agrobiodiversity contributes to livelihood outcomes, specifically food security; exploring co-benefits between agrobiodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration; and examining how agrobiodiversity changes over time as a result of farmers’ management choices. While the value of agrobiodiversity to livelihoods and ecosystem services has historically been difficult to measure, this research shows positive relationships in several domains and suggests methodological improvements for measurement in others.
Richards, M.B. and V.E. Méndez (2014) Interactions between carbon sequestration and shade tree species diversity in a smallholder coffee cooperative of El Salvador. Conservation Biology 28(2): 489-497.
Participatory research to support rural livelihoods and ecosystem services conservation in the Pico Duarte coffee region of the Dominican Republic
Researcher: Lee Gross
Much attention has been paid to the establishment of Protected Areas for the protection of biodiversity. In recent years there has been an increased recognition that successful conservation strategies should look beyond artificial park boundaries and zoom out to the scale of landscapes. A landscape approach conserves biodiversity while maintaining ecological functions that benefit integrated human communities. Most rural landscapes where conservation activities are taking place also contain working agricultural lands managed by smallholder farmers. Individual farm-level choices can play a significant role in the management of ecosystem services such as habitat provisioning, nutrient cycling, recreation amenities, carbon sequestration, and the delivery of clean water. Choices over the style and diversity of agricultural activities are often a result of farmer household livelihood strategies influenced by broader political, economic and environmental interactions. This underscores the need for integrated, landscape-scale strategies to support rural livelihoods and ecosystem services conservation.
This study presents results of an interdisciplinary analysis performed with shade coffee farmers in the Pico Duarte region of the Dominican Republic between 2009 and 2010. Baseline information on the social and ecological processes affecting livelihoods was collected through participatory focus groups, household interviews, and farm biodiversity transects from 42 households in 7 communities. All households were members of a local farmers’ association located within the Yaque del Norte watershed. Household sampling was stratified by size (i.e. small, medium, large producers) and by agroecological management (e.g. shade organic, conventional and transitional). A Participatory Action Research approach was taken to integrate the goals of the local farmer’s association, development organizations, University researchers and a Vermont company purchasing coffee from the area.
Findings suggest that all farms, as part of a diversified livelihood strategy, maintained similar levels of native tree and fruit species and supported important watershed service functions. However, findings verify conditions of poverty among coffee farmer households and strong economic pressures to abandon shade coffee for high input monoculture crops (e.g., chayote squash and beans) with potential loss to ecosystem services across the region. To conserve ecosystem services at multiple scales, a coordinated effort to support shade coffee farmers who practice diverse, low input agroecological management was evaluated through market and non-market approaches. In order to promote more sustainable landscape management in the region, a set of policy recommendations was developed for improving livelihoods and environmental conservation over the long-term.
Gross, L.H., J.D. Erickson and V.E. Méndez (2014) Supporting Rural Livelihoods and Ecosystem Services Conservation in the Pico Duarte Coffee Region of the Dominican Republic. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 38(9): 1078-1107. doi: 10.1080/21683565.2014.932883