Vulnerability to Cumulative Hazards: Coping with the Coffee Leaf Rust Outbreak, Drought, and Food Insecurity in Nicaragua
Christopher M.Bacon, William A. Sundstrom, Iris T. Stewart, and David Beezer
Recurrent food insecurity in the highlands of Central America has been exacerbated by the recent convergence of a coffee leaf rust outbreak that began defoliating crops in 2011 and a drought that started in 2014. In the context of these multiple challenges, this paper explores how seasonal hunger is related to smallholder organizational affiliation, farm and farmer characteristics, and post-hazard household-level coping strategies. The study integrates qualitative research, hydro-climatic data analysis, and a survey of 368 households completed in 2014. A number of household capacities correlate significantly with shorter periods of seasonal hunger: households with larger farms, with off-farm employment, and that produce more than half of their food, maintain more fruit trees, and harvest more coffee reported fewer lean months. We find evidence consistent with path dependence in how households cope with a sequence of environmental hazards, as the reported use of less preferred coping responses to past events (e.g., Hurricane Mitch and the 2009 drought) tended to correlate with their continued use after subsequent hazards. A comparison of coping responses of households affiliated with a farmer-to-farmer institution promoting subsistence-oriented production with those affiliated with cooperatives prioritizing sustainable coffee exports shows that farmer institutions were not strongly correlated with the number of lean months or coping mechanisms.