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Health Interventions on Coffee Farms in Kenya

Published: 
Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 19:54
By: 
Sharon Greene
coffee berries

Coffee: From Cultivation to Cupping is a new course offered (read the full story) to University of Washington students and co-taught by TREE Director, Dr. Michael Chung. The students in the class use coffee as a lens to better understand the connections between global health, economic development, climate change, and social justice. 

Dr. Chung, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington School of Public Health and associate professor at the UW School of Medicine and the TREE team, work with coffee cooperatives in Kenya to provide cervical cancer screening to female coffee growers. Kenya produces coffee famous for it's intense flavor and full body on the high plateuas and volcanic soils surrounding Mt. Kenya. Most coffee is sourced from small-scale, family owned farms. The coffee supply chain is complex as beans pass from growers, harvesters, traders, processesors, exporters, roasters, and retailers and the profits are not evenly distributed throughout the supply chain. Dr. Chung notes that “Many coffee farmers from around the world live in resource-limited settings under challenging health conditions. It’s helpful for us to learn more about where the food we value so much comes from and how we can help those who help us stay awake every day."

Dr. Chung saw an opportunity to provide health screenings and treatment for coffee workers is an opportunity to connect coffee companies and coffee consumers in the United States to go beyond a traditional business transaction. 

“Our foray into the health of coffee farmers melds the desire by American coffee companies to do good for the farmers that provide so much business for them and our desire to make a difference in these rural communities,” Dr. Chung says. “It’s important for us to think outside the box in order to ensure our efforts actually improve lives and decrease morbidity and mortality.”

In 2015, Dr. Chung and a team from Atlas Coffee Importers in Seattle developed a community health program that screens women on coffee farms for cancer and provides treatment as needed. Operating costs are donated by Atlas and other roasters that purchase the cooperatives’ coffee beans.

“We try to directly connect the coffee bought by Atlas with health interventions that we can provide to the farmers,” Dr. Chung says. “We want to make a personal connection and investment in the community.”