Friday, July 15, 2011

Heifer and Green Mountain Coffee: Partnering to Support Rural Growers

On Wednesday, I introduced you to Heifer International, a global non-profit working to end hunger through a community-based approach to livestock donation. One of their most exciting enterprises of the moment is a partnership with Vermont-based gourmet coffee company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, itself a business with a long track record of sustainable, fair trade, eco-friendly coffee production. The pairing may remind you of another corporate initiative I wrote about a couple months back, in which Pepsi worked with farmers in San Gabriel, Mexico.

The Heifer/Green Mountain partnership focuses on the Chiapas region, where coffee farmers deplete the income from their crop just prior to the rainy season, resulting in what is known as los meses flacos, or "the thin months," a period of extreme food scarcity and hunger.

Here Heifer and Green Mountain are aiding farmers in diversifying their food sources and income via Heifer's dynamic methodology. As the below documentary short illustrates, as demand for gourmet, sourced, high-quality commodities has increased globally, agricultural production has become increasingly specialized. While high coffee prices can be a boon for growers during the flush times of the year, their methods, land use and abilities leave them without a source of income for the thin months.

This is where Heifer and Green Mountain help. Because the buyers at Green Mountain have long fostered partnerships with supply-chain communities, including the cooperative involved here, known as the CESMACH, or the Campesinos Ecológicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas, they have the relationships necessary to assist Heifer in making livestock donations tailored to fit each community's unique needs, and also enhance their assets.

The cows, goats, fish or horses donated provide an alternative food source during the thin months, but they also enable community members to consider alternate business options. For instance, one pocket of communities within CESMACH has banded together to sell the honey produced by their Heifer-donated honeybees. During the upcoming season, they are estimated to produce and sell around nine tons of honey, raising thousands of dollars.

It's intriguing to see what kind of success can result from a partnership like this one, in which Green Mountain knows its agricultural partners, their needs and abilities, and Heifer boasts such an effective record of success.

For a little more discussion of their efforts, check out this brief documentary, called "After the Harvest," narrated by Susan Sarandon.

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