After a short night's sleep the AMRDI team was back to traveling this morning, making our way from the Nicaraguan capital of Managua to Matagalpa, the epicenter of the country's coffee cultivation. We split into two cars to avoid anyone making the two hour trek in the back of our rented Toyota Hilux, and as we climbed into the mountains we watched the landscape change. The plants slowly transformed from baked yellow and brown to lush greener, and the temperature dropped to the 70s. We arrived in Matagalpa around 11 a.m., dropped our bags at our hotel, and then made the first essential stop of the day: Coffee.
On the way into Matagalpa we passed property after property littered with white plastic bags of coffee and beans drying in the sun. Coffee is Nicaragua's third most important export product, and here in the northern mountains it is a staple of all things economic.
But despite the evolution of social programs from within the coffee industry, poverty and hunger continue to persist within coffee growing regions, both in Nicaragua and around the world. Sustainable livelihoods are under strain.
There is little hard data, however, about developing nations and how this is unfolding on the ground. Our group is here to shed some light on that, with a special emphasis on some of the even more obscure village and household level factors that impinge on development efforts.
But first we stopped by the Gold Mountain Coffee Growers Matagalpa office for a cup of the local stuff, a chance to sample the beans we were about to be walking among. It was fresh and delicious, there's nothing like sipping coffee brewed from beans harvested only a handful of miles away.
Then we got to work — we loaded into the Hilux (including two in the bed) and headed for the hills. Our goal: to survey local coffee pickers, growers and plantation owners about their experience with issues like health, hunger, discrimination and agricultural struggles. AMRDI Director of Research Matt Klick developed the survey, and we would be going house to house to collect responses.
And day one was a success! We spent the afternoon working our way around one rural village, chatting with farmers and families, slowly ticking through questions about their lives, collecting real data to fill in a longstanding blank spot on the map, a blank spot that sits on just about every rural developing coffee-growing region.
We've got five more days of this. The hope is get between 100 and 200 responses, which will begin to form a dataset that one day covers similar coffee-dependent regions around the world.
That process began today, and it was a good day.