Snapshots from HondurasTouring a biogas project and female-run finca
By Chris Ryan
When the SCAA arrives in Portland this month for its 24th Annual Expedition, there will be one coffee-producing nation receiving much of the spotlight. Honduras, which has a growing reputation as a specialty coffee power player, will serve as the event’s Portrait Country. That will earn Honduras a spot in the Opening Ceremonies, where the country’s president is scheduled to speak, and will also mean exposure on the show floor throughout the weekend. The Portrait Country status is sure to bring extra eyes to Honduras as well as the recent quality-improvement work done by the nation’s coffee institute, IHCAFE.
I traveled to the country in January as part of a tour organized by UTZ Certified, the Netherlands-based nonprofit devoted to responsible growing and sourcing of coffee, tea, cocoa and more. UTZ is the largest program and label for sustainable coffee farming in the world, with more than 300 million pounds of UTZ Certified coffee selling in 2011, according to the organization. Coffee from Honduras accounts for about 15 percent of that sales volume.
In addition to visiting IHCAFE—which I wrote about in the current issue of Fresh Cup—I traveled to several Honduran coffee farms. One highlight was Francisco Hernandez’s San Antonio cooperative in the Comayagua department, which sits just south of the country’s center. The co-op is part of a pilot project titled “Energy from Coffee Waste in Central America” that UTZ launched in three coffee-producing countries (Nicaragua and Guatemala are the others). The project installs bioreactors and biodigesters to convert pulp and waste water from coffee processing into energy; Hernandez uses the energy to heat his house, which sits adjacent to the co-op’s beneficio. Treating waste water also helps the participants prevent methane emissions and reduce pollution.
While UTZ created the project as a way to help produce coffee sustainably, Hernandez says he’s happy to do his part. “I have heard much about the consequences of climate change,” he told us as he showed off the biodigester, which resembles a cylindrical, inflated plastic bag. “And I had been looking for a way to reuse my waste water for a long time. I’m happy to be helping to protect the environment.”
On another Comayagua venture, we met Norma Jimenez, the 35-year-old owner of the farm Finca Buena Vista, located just outside the Las Lajas municipality. Thirty-something women are not the dominant demographic among Honduran land owners, but Jimenez is the exception. Wearing a pale blue polo shirt, gray scarf and Corona baseball cap, with white dirt kicking up around us in the warm breeze, Jimenez tells us that she’s the oldest of nine children, and her father gave her the farm because she expressed the most interest out of her siblings. While being a female landowner may be a rarity there, Jimenez says it hasn’t posed any unconquerable difficulties. “In the beginning, the main challenge was to get everyone to look at me as the boss,” she says, “especially some of the male employees. But now they tell me I work like a man, which I take as a compliment.”
When Jimenez took over the farm four years ago, she owned about six manzanas, or nearly 15 acres. One of her first actions of business was filing for UTZ Certification, and she became part of the organization’s Sustainable Quality Program, also known as Procaso. The program aims to provide technical and financial support to producers, processors and exporters to ensure they’re implementing the best management and farming practices. Jimenez was one of Procaso’s first participants, and through its opportunities, she has generated additional income that’s allowed her to up her land ownership to nearly 50 acres. In the process, she says, she has streamlined the work done on the farm and is now running a well-oiled machine. “I saw it as a chance to get organized,” she says. “Now I have more records and better control of the farm. That has allowed me to improve quality, which has resulted in higher prices.”
Jimenez says she plans to run the farm until she’s no longer able, at which point she’ll pass it down to her three children. But she says her children will have other options, thanks to the extra money she has generated through certification. “I started a savings fund for their higher education,” she says. “I want to give them the best possible future.”