Last night executive editor of The WIP, Kate Daniels participated in a panel discussion following a showing of Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean, a film about a coffee cooperative in Uganda working with companies in the United States to help solve real problems. The discussion about the movie centered largely on media portrayals of Africa, which too often reinforce negative stereotypes of Africans incapable of taking care of themselves, rather than the experts from the region who can offer real solutions to these problems.
In particular the movie highlighted the interconnectedness of problems. JJ, the protagonist in the documentary, started the coffee co-op because he has 10 biological children and 15 adopted children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. JJ also lost 3 of his own children to malaria. In the west, AIDS, malaria, and poverty are treated as separate issues with little bearing on each other. However, stories like JJ’s highlight the fact that not only are these problems related to each other, as JJ fights to be able to afford the nutrition needed for nearly 30 people, but also that these problems are really community problems.
I know I am guilty of envisioning the AIDS epidemic as something that happens to a lot of individuals in Africa, but in reality it is something that happens to a lot of communities around the world. Community members like JJ must work to help those who cannot help themselves, but that puts an economic strain on people like JJ, who do have the ability to help.
By becoming involved in the Fair Trade coffee movement, JJ helps many Ugandans improve the economic condition of their communities, but this solution presents it’s own problems for the community to overcome. At the end of the movie we learn that due to climate change, the yield from JJ’s coffee co-op is down 60 percent, warning of further economic and social turmoil in the future. Part of the problem here is that JJ is cultivating a cash crop in order to gain the capital needed to buy the nutrition JJ’s family needs, and by growing only coffee, JJ is putting a lot of stake in one product that is subject to environmental factors in a rapidly changing climate. JJ’s co-op is beginning to produce vanilla as well, but until solutions are localized, climate change is likely to continue to disproportionately impact the global south.
The UN suggests one potential model to increase sustainability and improve nutrition in communities like JJ’s. This year is The Year of Family Farming. The UN says that family farming can help to improve food security because it helps to ensure biodiversity, which makes food less susceptible to bad harvest years by diversifying the crops grown. This also helps significantly with nutrition because the same variation in crops that helps to safeguard against one failed crop provides better nutrition.
Kirstin Kelley is graduate assistant at The WIP who is completing her master’s degree in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.