• Areas of Expertise


Lutheran World Relief provides technical assistance to help smallholder coffee farmers generate more income, and we work with farmer cooperatives to develop greater capacity to meet the needs of their members.

There are about 25 million coffee farmers in the world; counting family members, more than 100 million people depend upon coffee for their livelihoods. But more than 70% of the world’s coffee is grown by small-scale farmers who cultivate small plots of land and struggle in poverty.

Together with community organizations, governments and corporations, Lutheran World Relief helps put farmers in position to reap the benefits of a potentially lucrative cash crop and break the cycle of poverty once and for all.

Why does Lutheran World Relief work with coffee farmers?

Many grow only coffee, with little food production other than a few fruit trees that provide shade for their coffee.  This leaves them vulnerable and entirely dependent upon their coffee earnings.  Even in good years, this is barely sufficient to meet all basic needs, much less move them out of poverty.

The global coffee market can be volatile, making it difficult for farmers to plan from year to year, with shortfalls leaving them unable to meet basic needs like nutritious food, clean water, access to medical care, education. Other challenges include coping with the impact of climate change that fuels crop diseases like la roya, the rapidly rising average age of farmers, and the migration of youth from the farm to urban areas.

Threats to coffee's sustainability

Lately, the financial pressures have become even more intense. For decades the “C” (or global market benchmark) price for coffee stayed in a relatively narrow range, with occasional spikes and a few severe crashes.  Farm gate prices for coffee have not been adjusted for inflation during this period while retail prices have more than doubled., Almost everyone realizes that buyers and their customers receive most of the economic benefits from coffee.  Farmers continue to carry the most risk and accrue significantly less economic return from coffee.  

These factors all threaten the sustainability of coffee, which has the potential to be a lucrative and sustainable source of livelihood for many farmers.

Lutheran World Relief's approach to coffee

Addressing these issues requires the coordination of various stakeholders — not only coffee farmers, but their cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and local/national governments — to address the factors we can control. These include:

  • Crop Diversification: Diversifying crops on coffee farms, such as planting fruit trees and other food crops, to create more income and food security.
  • Improve Coffee Quality: Working with cooperatives to provide better services to their members, implementing holistic programs that include improved natural resource management and better access to inputs like fertilizer, pest and disease control, and technical assistance to improve coffee quality and ultimately the prices farmers receive.
  • Strengthen Cooperatives: Helping farmers and cooperatives improve their processing of coffee and getting them involved in more parts of the agriculture value chain, so that they can capture more income from their coffee and other crops through regional and global markets.
  • Gender Initiatives:Incorporating gender initiatives to reinforce the idea of farming as a family business, to ensure that both women and men are able to fully participate and equally contribute to the success of the family enterprise.

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