Our purchasing and supply manager Martin once again travelled around the mountain slopes of Central America. He met with coffee farmer that are worried about low world-market prices at the same time as they are fighting the biggest outbreak of leaf rust for decades. But he also saw how the transition to more sustainable farming practices provides hope for the future.
My journey starts in Costa Rica, a classic coffee country with an interesting history. The coffee production in the country is decreasing to some extent due to, inter alia, the urbanization. Just as in many other countries, some parts of Costa Rica have been affected by leaf rust. This makes the harvests smaller than usual. But there are possibilities. The country has relatively strict laws as well as controls of environment and traceability within the coffee sector. That is good, and hopefully it, together with many years' genuine knowledge, contributes to increasing the production of high-quality coffee. The visits I paid different coffee farmers points in that direction.
Caught in a thundercloud
When I arrived in Honduras, the presidential election was held in the country. It was an interesting learning experience. The level of world-market prices is becoming a greater problem in general at the moment. Combined with smaller harvests, farmers in some parts of the country are considering leaving their plantations. The leaf rust has affected many of the coffee farmers I met, but most of them seem to have coped relatively well.
The times are turbulent, a feeling that is strengthened when a thundercloud surprises me on my journey along the narrow serpentine roads that bring me further and higher up in the mountainous area. We stop our Jeep at an altitude of 1750 m.a.s.l and seek shelter. Luckily, everything goes well and I believe that it will for most of the coffee farmers we work with too.
With many of the farmers I visit, I can see with my own eyes examples of how certifications like Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance can contribute to a positive development when put in the right hands. The first aspect is more sustainable farming practices that protect and improve both the quality and size of the harvests. The second is working methods that increase the coffee farmers' revenues in the long term. In some parts, I can see that the cooperatives have expanded their drying capacity and degree of processing. Naturally, it contributes to increasing the quality as well as their revenues.
I also had time to visit our good friend Don Hector, who is also converting to an organic plantation and who is one of the winners of the last couple of years' Cup of Excellence. He really contributes with an experience full of flavours that increases the understanding of how a perfect cup of coffee is farmed in harmony with nature.
Economize on resources
I end my journey in Nicaragua, a country that strongly depends on the export of coffee. About a fifth of the country's export earnings comes from coffee and affects the society in many different ways. Up on the high and beautiful mountain slopes of the north-west, I meet coffee farmers that are producing natural fertilizers and other important components. These farmers are getting better and better of economizing on their resources. Once again, I can see a clear focus on sustainable farming and quality - and that it makes a difference. One of our suppliers has managed to decrease his water use by as much as 80 % - at the same time as the quality has increased significantly. To share that happiness is indescribable.
Happy to make a difference
On my way home after yet another exciting and educational journey, I reflect on a few things. Many coffee farmers live with really large challenges right now. The need for knowledge and financing to be able to convert to more sustainable farming methods is greater than ever.
I am happy and proud when I see with my own eyes and get to experience that we are making a difference. I am convinced that our persistent travels to inaccessible mountainous areas and our meetings with the farmers contribute to a sustainable development - and to you and me drinking and enjoying a really good cup of coffee.