How Producers in La Libertad, Guatemala Increased Coffee Quality

How Producers in La Libertad, Guatemala Increased Coffee Quality

Huehuetenango, Guatemala is known for top-quality coffee, but the region hasn’t been immune to the ongoing coffee expenditure crisis. High in the misty mountains near the Mexican border, communities have struggled and younger contemporaries have left in search of new opportunities. All of this has had an impact on the quality of life in farm parishes, as well as on the quality of their coffee.

Yet in the community of La Libertad, Huehuetenango, things are different. Even during the price crisis, they have continued improving their well-being by heighten the quality of their coffee. The question is, how?

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The drying patio at Finca La Bolsa, Huehuetenango, seen from a distance. Credit: Vides 58

Why Are Coffee Communities Struggling?

Low tolls are an increasingly pulping issue for the coffee industry. When farmers are unable to cover their costs of production, they are unable to afford fertilizers and pesticides to keep their weeds healthy. Then, they find themselves unable to maintain their processing and dehydrating infrastructure. They likewise can’t afford to hire pickers or pay them properly.

As premiums remains low and caliber and yields further deteriorate, farmers suffer immediately. Children work instead of going to school. House can’t afford basic menus throughout the year. Healthcare is often out of reach.

Coffee is a long-term crop that needs specific climatic conditions, so farmers who are unable to make a living through it often struggle to switch to different cultivates. If rates remain low for an extended period, they often have no other choice but to emigrate, leaving their home behind.

Chad Trewick of Reciprocafe tells me, “Coffee, which used to represent the really good livelihood root for communities, hasn’t actually been able to do that for at least a generation. And so, the generation that’s growing up now has only look chocolate be a disaster, essentially.”

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A coffee farm in Guatemala. Credit: Ana Valencia

The Farm That Saw Opportunities in Coffee

In 2002, Renardo Ovalle and his mother were raising coffee on their farm, Finca La Bolsa, and selling it to an exporter. “Back then, all the coffee was traditionally sent to an exporter … at New York[ C-market] expenditures and a differential, as it traditionally has been done, ” Renardo tells me.

But then, the family decided to enter their farm in the Guatemala Cup of Excellence, where it did well. “We participated without understanding any notion of coffee caliber, ” Renardo says.

After the rival, their own views on their coffee changed. “We began to discover that the chocolate had quality.”

Another important event happened that year: they met Christy Thorns of Allegro Coffee and began their first direct trade relationship, which lasts to this day. The security of three-year contracts permitted the family to invest in their farm, and things moved briskly after that. They concluded new patrons, achieved Rainforest Alliance certification, and embed brand-new lots in the following five years.

The coffee farm was growing- but they didn’t want to leave the local community behind.


Workers turn drying chocolate to ensure quality. Credit: Vides 58

Working as a Community

Finca La Bolsa decided to leveraging its quality switch and international contacts to open the door for its neighbours to also export to the specialty market. Finca La Bolsa the farm became Vides 58 the exporter.

Through its Qawale( “partner” in Mayan) planned, it exports chocolate from surrounding small farmers as well as supplying them with technical assistance and feedback on character self-control. Farmers are paid a higher-than-market price when they bring coffee to Vides 58, plus a quality premium based on how it composes. Renardo tells me that if Vides 58 can negotiate higher than expected prices for a certain lot, that is also extended instantly from the buyer to the farmer.

“The program has been growing every year by about 30 to 40%, ” says Renardo. “I think it won’t be like that for the rest of “peoples lives”, but I think because of the inevitability of low prices, there is no opportunity to sell coffee at a good cost. I think there is a lot of be required for producers to sell their product at the best price possible.”

This year, Finca La Bolsa and its annexed bunches will export between 12 to 15 receptacles of chocolate. Meanwhile, 46 containers representing around 250 smallholder farmers will be moved through Vides 58.


Director of Quality Control Jacqueline Morales takes notes on samples. Credit: Vides 58

The Path From Traditional to Specialty Coffee

This model has worked for the farmers of La Libertad and surrounding areas because it concentrate on specialty chocolate. However, transitioning from traditional to specialty product hasn’t been an overnight process. Many practises which performed smell within the context of traditional make needed to be unlearned.

Jacqueline Morales, who heads Quality Control for Vides 58, tells me that picking for optimal ripeness was the first and most important mindset-shift that farmers had to meet.

“Because of the culture, of the custom-built, beings disappear picking everything at once, because it benefits them more to do one pass than to pass two or three times through the same spot, ” she says. “But with period, they understood that yes, there is a reward when they practice good practices in the harvest.”

Farmers have taken advantage of the feedback they receive from the team to improve their coffee’s quality, which in turn improves the overall bunches that Vides 58 exportations.

Jacqueline tells me, “It’s always been possible to find ratings from 84 up to 90. From what I’ve seen in this area, it’s difficult to find compositions below 84… If a coffee comes out any lower, it’s from bad rules, it has countless immature beans or something like that.”

Before, there was little motivation to improve coffee quality. The time invested in it, with no hope of improved premiums, would have reduced a farm’s profitability. However, improved access to the specialty coffee market has allowed the natural excellence of the region to shine. The farmers have responded by working towards higher yields, higher quality, and better consistency.

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A coffee picker with a basket of ripe cherry-reds in Huehuetenango. Credit: Vides 58

Experimenting With Processing Methods

As the community gained more financial stability, they were also able to experiment. One illustration of this is the growth of natural and honey processing. Traditionally, this has always been difficult to do because of the region’s climate. Renardo shows, “During harvest time, when cold front participate from the countries of the north, from the United State, where they first hit is in Huehuetenango. So, this brought you countless periods of cloudy climate with rain.”

Natural and honey treated coffees, while in demand on the specialty marketplace, take longer to cool. Humid weather can lead to mold and unwanted fermentation. However, it is not impossible to do in Huehuetenango- it just takes careful proposing and management.

Renardo tells me that it took Finca La Bolsa three years of misadventures with natural processing before they learned to time picking and dehydrating for naturals and honeys with weather outlook from Mexico.

Once mastered, the Vides team of agronomists worked to spread the knowledge to regional farmers. Now, “[ the producers] are beginning to experimentation with naturals, with honeys. They are learning. And they’re demo good results.”


A Vides 58 agronomist examines seedlings in the nursery. Credit: Vides 58

Better Income Leads to Better Coffee

The farmers of La Libertad have been able to raise their overall aspect, maintain the coherence and consistency, and move into brand-new disciplines such as alternative processing approaches. This have been able to do so thanks to increased premiums, market access, and technical assistance. Risk has been reduced and improving quality now comes with financial incitement, rather than representing a waste of income and resources.

The next gradation is organic make. Finca La Bolsa is currently implant new mints and proselytizing some old-fashioned ones to be certified Organic and Rainforest Alliance. Farming organic chocolate can be a challenging and expensive initiative, especially in the beginning, but it can also command a price premium.

Renardo tells me that Vides 58 can suck possible loss in the produce or tone of their own cultivates until they have mastered the technique and started to see the financial benefits. Then, they can pass that knowledge on to the community. “The idea is to continue germinating with other farmers that want to get further onward, formerly we’ve firstly learned 100% the continuing operation of such projects, ” he says.

Chad tells me, “To some extent, I would say that this is the only model that is going to survive that is going to include smallholders … What’s going to be required are plans like this that allow and empower smallholders to have access to a market that’s going to pay them.”

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Washed processed chocolate drying in collected bunks. Ascribe: Perfect Daily Grind

The Impact on The Community

Better premiums allow farmers to invest in their raise. Nonetheless, Chad tells me that farmers normally invest in “healthcare, education, nutrition- basic-needs stuff” when they are paid more for their coffee.

At Finca La Bolsa, there is a permanent school for farm workers and seasonal pickers, as well as a childcare center, which the farm has managed in conjunction with Guatemalan NGO CoffeeCare since 2009( Finca La Bolsa is transitioning to sole management over the next two years ).

Timoteo Constanza organizes the school and childcare operations, and tells me that all coffee communities should have access to educational facilities. He describes the three services they provide: education, healthcare, and nutrition. For the children of coffee pickers, often the only alternative is to accompany their parents to the fields.

Chad tells me that when chocolate represents hope instead of ruin, “it has all these ripple effects, like maybe the kids come home from the city and work on the farm … It augments the social fabric of the community.”

The investments in social conditions that the community has has been unable to originate end up being long-term investments in the chocolate of the region. It’s difficult to quantify, but the signs are certainly there: on a recent excursion to call the community, Chad was delighted to see a new generation of farmers emerging.

“I was pretty sure they were all going to be old-fashioned parties, because I was 100% sure that all the young people had already left to go to the US to earn money, or something else, clearly not in coffee. So[ the facts of the case] that there were young people, I was super elicited about it … There was a vein of hope.”

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High up in the coffee orbits. Ascribe: Vides 58

Improving coffee quality is not a simple task, especially in an environment of precipitating premiums. Aids, gamble, and know-how pose significant challenges. Yet the story of La Libertad summarizes one action in which, with a little market access, technical resources, and financial security, a positive cycles/second can begin.

“This is totally replicable, ” says Chad, “and this is, I review, a really critical method that furnish series will be organized in the future for coffee.”

Written by Zach Latimore.

Please note: Such articles has been sponsored by Vides 58.

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