Adequate quantity and quality of food are required for the optimal health, growth and development of humans. Hence, the availability of food has been a major concern at all time and context in every community . Food security, a concept that originated in the mid-1970s, was at the outset focused on ensuring the availability and stability of the price of basic food stuffs at a national level . A decade later, a paradigm shift was made regarding the concept of food security through corroborating a critical dimension called “access”, but this remained tailored at the national level [2, 3]. subsequently, worldwide observations of “access” of food shifted from the national to the household level . The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) later in 2001 supplemented the concept with a cross cutting theme called “stability” over availability, access and utilization. Consequently, the FAO defined food security as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” [2–6]. In contrast, food insecurity exists when people lack secure access to sufficient and safe amounts of nutritious food for normal growth and an active healthy lifestyle [4–6].
Despite significant global progress having been made over the last two decades, the number of hungry people remains unacceptably high. According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) in 2014, the state of hunger in developing countries has improved since 1990, falling by 39% . However, the goal of “feeding the world” remained far reaching. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where 60% of world’s food insecure people reside, are the most affected regions in the world. These regions have a predominantly rain fed agriculture, which has often resulted in a food system yielding a low per capita food availability for decades . The Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia is located, is one of the most food insecure regions of the world; more than 40% and up to 70% of the population are undernourished . According to the demographic health survey of Ethiopia (2011), more than one third of households in the country are food insecure .
The coffee sub-sector is vital to the Ethiopian economy. In 2014, coffee alone accounted for 25.8% of the total export earnings, providing income for about 8 million smallholder farming households . Driven by such gains, one of the goals of the Ethiopian national agricultural program is “to rise agricultural productivity and commercialization” . Consequently, there has been great interest in leveraging agriculture to maximize income across the country. Rural development agencies working in coffee producing areas are also operating within a framework of further expansion of coffee farming in neighboring regions. On the other hand, critics of the cash crop agriculture system has raised the negative influence of cash cropping over staple food production and availability for those engaged in farming and processing [13, 14]. Skeptics of commercialization of agriculture also raise the financial risk small holder farmers could face as prices for major cash crops are set in volatile commodity markets and chains of larger firms [12–14].
Food access can be worse in a cash crop setting where products are not edible or are meant for parties other than the farming household. A study in Uganda has found coffee producing households had greater ownership of capital assets, access to inputs and higher income, but conversely, they were found to have poorer nutritional outcomes and were more food insecure compared to staple food producing farmers . Likewise, in Ghana, farmers dedicating a greater percent of their land to cash crop (oil palm and/or cacao) production were found to have reduced food access, availability and utilization . A high level of food insecurity was also observed among coffee farmers in Nicaragua (69%) and in a survey of Central America and Mexico (63%) [17, 18].
In Ethiopia, food insecurity has to a large extent been addressed by annual emergency food aid from abroad. In the past two decades, the country has been the largest recipient of food aid in Africa. In the meantime, the country has adopted a multi-sectoral and comprehensive approach involving financial, agricultural and education sub sectors towards food security, yielding a remarkable reduction of the GHI scale from 42.6 in 1995 to 24.4 in 2014 . However, food insecurity and malnutrition remain prevalent, contrary to the country’s rapid economic growth, affirming the need for detailed investigations in each context. Moreover, there exists a notion of considering high income earning coffee producing regions as “food secured” in a general sense, if wrong, could result in apparent neglect in public health nutrition. To our knowledge, there has been no study done with the same objectives on coffee farmers of Ethiopia thus far. Hence, this study was done to assess food insecurity and its determinants among coffee farming population of the Jimma Zone, Southwest Ethiopia.