Would coffee farmers survive without producing and trading coffee?

When I was a kid, I clearly remember my father engaging in very amicable conversations with his fellow coffee farmers in my hometown. These conversations were related to the Peruvian economy. At that time, the Peruvian economy was seriously struggling. A couple of reasons were that the traditional exporting products such as coffee were affected by plagues and commodity price. It is at that time that my father and his fellow farmers mentioned the viability of making a living without cultivating and selling coffee. But how could this be possible if coffee is the only source of income, I asked myself? If this is possible, how sustainable is it?

Coffee is everything, but there is something else. Farmers not only produce coffee but other crops as well. These products are usually planted together between coffee plants. Farmers cultivate corn, beans, bananas, and other valuable eatable roots such as yuca, arracacha, and bituca. By doing this, there is no need to buy these products at the supermarkets or farmer’s market. Indeed, these products are organic and nutritious. The only two products that we have to worry about are salt and kitchen oil – my dad used to say. Well, now I understand that salt and kitchen oil are basic ingredients to make a tasty meal.

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Farmers raise animals as a source of protein and cash. The main purpose of raising animals is to consume them during important dates such as birthdays and other festivities. Most farmers raise chicken, pigs, guinea pigs, turkeys, and ducks. Yes, despite that it seems bizarre, farmers raise guinea pigs to feed their families. If the production is abundant, farmers can also trade their animals and get some cash immediately.

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It is obvious that coffee farmers have been focused on coffee as the principal source of income; however, during rough times, survival mode makes them look for other options. In the end, while this approach seems to be reasonable, the truth is that it makes farmers more vulnerable, without enough cash to face the challenges of life. What would happen when farmers and/or their families face health issues or when they aren’t able to work and want to retire?

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