More than a Cup of Coffee

Written by
Mike Janz
Published on
December 1, 2022 at 2:35:00 PM PST December 1, 2022 at 2:35:00 PM PSTst, December 1, 2022 at 2:35:00 PM PST

When you brew your morning coffee is there a face, a person, a family that comes to mind? There is a good chance that the beans you used were grown on a small farm tended by a family that has cultivated coffee for a few generations. There’s also a good chance that the family experiences the daily struggles of poverty.

With approximately 75 per cent of Canadians drinking coffee every day, our coffee habits have a significant global impact.

Ana Marroquín Rodríguez (pictured above), a 37-year-old Guatemalan mother of four, is one of these coffee farmers. Along with other growers in the area, she earns an average net income from coffee of just $900 CAD a year. With annual food costs for a Guatemalan family-of-five estimated at $6,000 a year (Instituto Nacional de Estadística Guatemala), simple math tells you this equation is not sustainable!

Coffee is an incredibly lucrative global business, however, coffee farmers rarely feel the benefits. The majority of coffee is grown in countries experiencing chronic poverty. In addition, transportation and farm expenses continue to skyrocket; crops fail due to climate change impacts; and the low prices paid to smallholder farmers are unsustainable.

With a coffee supply chain that sees most of the profits being realized by the importers and roasters, nearly half of the world’s smallholder coffee farmers live in poverty, and almost a quarter of those farmers live in extreme poverty. Because Food for the Hungry (FH) is committed to walking with vulnerable families, it only makes sense for FH to invest time, training, equipment, and finances toward a sustainable future for coffee farmers in FH partner communities.

That’s why FH recently initiated two exciting coffee projects: Better Coffee, Better Lives in Guatemala and Coffee Seeds of Hope in Ethiopia. Both of these projects are focused on improving the livelihoods and quality of life for smallholder coffee growers and their families within the unique contexts of each region.

Better Coffee, Better Lives strengthens the livelihoods of vulnerable households in San Juan Cotzal, Guatemala. Through building up the technical capacities of 100 smallholder coffee producers in the communities of Chichel and Santa Avalina, FH can help coffee growers sustainably increase their income and food security, directly impacting a total of 600 people!

Ana’s experience in Guatemala reveals that these projects are about more than coffee. They are about flourishing in all aspects of life. “I feel very happy about the arrival of FH in our community because it has changed our way of thinking; it has transformed it for our good and the good of our family and that is something very important,” Ana shares.

“Now we can sell our coffee to a cooperative, raise our chickens, produce our organic fertilizer, and improve our coffee production.” — Ana

In addition to helping families with their coffee production, FH also works with participating households to implement family vegetable gardens, make organic fertilizers, raise livestock and keep bees to diversify their sources of income, and build connections with local coffee cooperatives.

The cooperative Ana refers to is called the Maya Ixil Coffee Cooperative. Connecting smallholder coffee farmers to cooperatives is a key piece of raising the leveraging power of individual farmers so they can receive a fairer price. Because smallholder farmers grow a relatively small harvest compared to the demand for coffee and because they have no other way to sell their beans, “coyotes” (middlemen or local small business people who buy and sell coffee) can name their price, and often undercut the farmer to make a profit. The Cooperative provides technical training for farmers and the opportunity to collectively bring coffee to market.

In Ethiopia, Coffee Seeds of Hope is accomplishing similar gains. Coffee is an integral part of Ethiopian culture, from hospitality to economics. The production and sale of coffee is a primary means of income—an activity dramatically affected by fluctuations in international coffee prices, unpredictable weather and climate issues, and the high costs of growing new seedlings. 

By providing farming families with training, seeds for coffee production, and multipurpose tree saplings, Coffee Seeds of Hope is not only impacting future income for farmers in Sasiga, Ethiopia, it’s also helping to improve the surrounding ecosystem that has been damaged by deforestation.

While Better Coffee, Better Lives and Coffee Seeds of Hope won’t solve all of the issues related to poverty in coffee, they will empower families at the grassroots level to make it possible to grow a living from coffee. By equipping farmers with technological improvements and economic development, FH partnerships are laying the groundwork for coffee growing families to earn a living and overcome chronic food insecurity.

Prior to the start of the Better Coffee, Better Lives project in Santa Avelina, Ana Rodríguez and her neighbours no longer wanted to plant more coffee because of the negative effects of climate change and the lack of technical knowledge about crop management affecting production. Ana shares, “Thanks to the support of FH Guatemala, we are now determined to continue growing coffee because the knowledge they impart to us is of the utmost importance to us and in this way we increase our production. In addition, we can diversify our sources of income and market our products at a fair price in the cooperative.”

As the names and faces behind our morning cups of coffee become clearer, we coffee drinkers find ourselves faced with some uncomfortable realities. 

By unknowingly participating in unjust supply chains and indirectly neglecting the harsh realities faced by coffee growers, the majority of coffee drinkers in Canada end up treating the farmers the same way we treat coffee—as a replaceable commodity instead of people just like us who are of inestimable worth in the heart of our Creator.

So, we have to make some hard choices. 

Will we ignore the uncomfortable truth about where our morning cup comes from and the families working so hard to supply it? Or will we choose to challenge the system that ignores the struggle of the most vulnerable people in the value chain, and find ways to support farmers like Ana?

Do you want to walk with farmers or just learn more about these coffee projects? Contact Mike at or 902-818-5989.