Origin report from Guatemala and Nicaragua 2013

Guatemala and Nicaragua 2013
Jan /Feb 2013
I visited some of these co-ops in 2009, and was excited to see how things are now, after a sobering last trip due to a few big issues impacting producers in the region. Climate change was changing weather patterns and increasing impacts of natural disasters, a leaf rust ‘Ojo de gallo’ was also prevalent. All of these issues were reducing yields and quality of many farms. The price of coffee was also a big issue in relation to cost of production.
Roya was the topic of this 2013 trip though, as you should know it is spreading through many Latin American coffee producing countries, with some announcing a national emergency
Roya is a leaf rust, which is common to coffee, but this NEW strand seems to be much worse than ever before, with many farmers very quickly loosing much of their coffee to it.
Many trees- now at harvest time are bare of leaves, and must be cut out and burnt so the rust won’t spread. Then replanting can begin, with a 3+ year wait for production. Farmers we spoke with understood it to remain in the fallen leaves and talked about having to clear whole areas which had been affected, and start again from scratch!
This will be tough for many producers (just look at the coffee news) who don’t have the money to buy enough seedlings to replant their farms, or the means to see brand new trees through to harvest (all while they have no income for 3 years). This year some countries are reporting 10 -50% of farms are effected by Roya, but the worst will be to come as the trees which did produce this year must be destroyed.
With Bourbon and Typica being the main base varietal in the Americas, hopefully this cloned monoculture won’t be wiped out with this one disease, like it did to British Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 1880’s, when leaf rust wiped out all coffee and put Sri Lanka on the map for tea production. Hopefully there are varietals developed and grown which can handle current and future growing conditions, AND cup well!!
Mean time, keep an eye on the media releases!
Over the last 5+ years, Guaya’b has built a large wet mill, with fermentation tanks, drying patio, and 2 mechanical dryers, this new infrastructure has greatly improved the harvest process for it members, who now don’t have to spend every evening at harvest season hand de-pulping coffee at home, washing it, and finding somewhere to safely dry it. This also gives better controls over consistency and quality, and ability to develop new quality processes at the mill.
With financial issues holding up the building of the mill on the 2009 trip, this visit I was pleased to see it all finished in action, already near capacity, and enjoyed the samples on cupping table, with their exceptional Huehuetenango coffee tasting very beautiful.
Interestingly this infrastructure could not be built with the sales of coffee, but mainly NZ MFAT capacity building grants channeled by Trade Aid Importers.
2013 will yield 15 containers for Guaya’b, 11 of which are organic, so they are a fairly small co-op, but very focused on the needs of their close knit members.
Due to the size of the co-op, they currently contract a dry mill with a laser eye to dry process, and also contract a cupper to roast and grade the farmers samples, to then match with different contract requirements.
This was an opportunity for me to spend some time with Lucas the manager to do an education session on sample roasting, setting him up with a good roast profile, and cupping to SCAA protocols. We discussed the importance of standards like SCAA, so globally we are all roasting, cupping and using the same vocabulary to assess coffee.
I also spent time with the main staff of the wet mill, discussing and learning how they operate, how and why they do what they do. From my experiences on previous harvest trips to other co-ops, I was able to share some ideas and standards I have seen in successful operation else where and ways to increase cup quality. Harvest trips are an exciting time to learn more about the coffee process, and I find it very rewarding to be able to add some value back to our producers in ways like this.
While visiting the 4 co-ops, we were impressed with the proactivity and degree of social development programs they had developed to support their members; PRODECOOP in Nicaragua was a perfect example of this. With new health clinics meeting the needs of many in the remote communities, and food banks where members could sell their beans and corn at harvest time, and loan it back when food supply was scarce.
Another very important program run by PRODECOOP was food growing diversification; traditionally corn and beans are the main food grown by farmers, but this is not a full healthy diet, so they are modeling and teaching their coffee farmers to grow many other foods to increase health.
On harvest trips like this, I continue to see and hear (even in ‘specialty coffee’ trade) social development programs like these are key to ensuring the sustainability of coffee production. The price of coffee alone has never been high enough to allow producers to better their life to reasonable standards, therefore many coffee producers rely on aid work, govt subsidies, NGO work etc to develop ways to enable them to continue to farm when often production costs exceed prices received. The reason most farmers can continue to farm at a loss is because they grow their own food and buy very little, so their ability to grow quality food is very important.
I hope that in 10 years there will still be quality coffee to buy from these regions, co-ops and countries, not just Brazil and Vietnam.
For me harvest trips are an opportunity to learn about the realities of farming specialty coffee in a commodity market, to then reflect these requirements in our business objectives. Through conversations with farmers, technicos, mill staff, cuppers, and co-op managers, we try to get a full picture of production practices, and issues in the region.
Through our trade we hope to lessen the influence of local street prices, foreign exchange rates, NYC price, and NZ wholesale / cup price, and address the realities of production, working with producers on common goal; to build better yields, of better quality coffee, at more sustainable prices, believing through our trade we CAN have a positive impact on our partners.
Basic stats:
Will produce 200 containers in 2013
Only buy cherries from its members, but have helped supply primary co-ops with micro wet mills throughout its growing regions, with water treatment facilities
Own a very large dry mill with concrete patios, cupping lab, laser eye for grading, and load containers at their warehouse
Many of its members use their pulp for organic compost
Members have access to; shared infrastructure, technico assistance, social premiums, food diversification- health- seedling and quality programs
PRODECOOP has exhaustive information on each farmer, and knows well the life of its producers.
Will produce 15 containers, 11 organic in 2013
Buy cherries and pergamino from farmers
Have a wet mill with fermentation tanks and concrete patios, 2 mechanical dryers, and warehouse
Many of its farmers use their pulp for organic compost
Members also produce honey
Members have access to; shared infrastructure, technico assistance, social premiums, food diversification- health- seedling and quality programs
GUAYA’B has exhaustive information on farmers (including their neighbours farms status as barriers are needed to protect from neighbouring non organic production)
They contract cupping and dry mill services.
René Macaulay
Vice Chair – NZ Roaster Guild