A better world tastes like coffee

Abello, Oscar

Delphine Missé usually wakes up to work on a cocoa farm in her village in Cameroon. One morning she woke up and instead walked nine miles to a nursery managed by the World Agroforestry Center, a group supported by the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She went to begin training sessions in the practice of vegetative propagation, in other words, gardening – specifically trees, which is something of an art. Back in her village, Leiki-Assi, she joined with her neighbors and began to domesticate particular indigenous trees, all known to produce exotic fruit or have medicinal value. They sell what they grow, and the money Missé’s family earns allows them to send their only daughter to high school. Typically, their cash crop is cocoa, just like many other families in Cameroon and in much of the developing world. In Cameroon, 70 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, cultivating cash crops like cocoa, coffee and cotton.

While a little less than half the world’s population lives in rural areas, agriculture accounts for roughly 4 percent of the world’s annual income, according to a report by the CIA. With nearly half the world on such a small piece of the pie, it comes as no surprise that three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas where they are mainly employed in agriculture, if they are employed at all. It makes sense that, at the family level, when you can’t afford to buy enough food, you would choose to grow some of your own and would have to live in a rural area to make the most of that opportunity. On top of all this, the percentage of the world’s land affected by drought has doubled in the past 30 years and continues to increase, making it more difficult to earn a living or feed a family from agriculture.

In Afghanistan, a country where, according to the CIA, roughly 80 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, many families have found that growing opium poppies is the best opportunity available to them. Headlines earlier this week noted that opium production in Afghanistan will increase by 33 percent this year, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that production has soared in the past two years. BBC reports that by the end of the year, 93 percent of the world’s opiates will be of Afghani origin.

Besides providing further income to an impoverished population, the profits from selling opiates, such as heroine, help to perpetuate violence in the country by funding groups on all sides of the conflict. Since they are derived illegally through opiate production, these profits rarely find their way into more legal and peaceful ventures. In the meantime, the meager income of each family that grows the poppies is hardly sufficient as a deterrent against choosing a life of violence.

When you look at a list of the countries most economically dependent on agriculture, it reads like a laundry list of the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished states: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Burundi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Cambodia.

And while it’s not on that list, 71 percent of India’s population, over 700 million people still lives in rural areas, depending mostly on agriculture for their income.

Each of those countries has a unique set of problems littered with countless variables that can easily overwhelm anyone with a heart to contemplate them. It may all seem distant to us here at Villanova, but the naked truth is that whether we acknowledge it or not, the entire world is connected in a giant web, and it helps to learn that those strands of the web are called: supply and demand.

You – whether rich or poor – live in the richest country in the world, and, because of that, you are at the center of that web. The things you use and consume on a daily basis are a physical connection to everyone who has anything to do with bringing these things to you. Most importantly, you have the responsibility of deciding what to do with that connection. You could use it to perpetuate violence. You might instead use it to work toward a better world.

What you’ll find on Villanova’s campus is that a better world tastes like coffee. Or it might taste like chocolate, bananas or rice. As you might already know, all of these products are fair trade certified on this campus. They help by bringing your everyday desires closer to the everyday activities of those living in poverty across the world, because for three quarters of those in poverty, they wake up to work on a farm