By Amy Boardman, Sustainability Manager.
It’s fair to say that my expectations were already pretty high when I stepped onto the plane to San Pedro Sula, eager to embark upon my first visit to Honduras. It’s the favourite origin of many a coffee buyer, with its stunning national parks bordering the coffeelands. And my meetings with suppliers on their visits to the UK have always been inspiring, with numerous tales of fascinating new initiatives. Now I would get the chance to witness these projects for myself.
I visited three cooperatives in western Honduras and the thing that really stood out to me was real impact that coffee has had on people lives, providing opportunities for locals that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Cooperatives have subsequently developed into economic hubs for the communities they serve. Similar to the “social enterprise” model we have in the UK, co-operatives are commercially driven operations, providing jobs and trade links to remote areas, but with a clear social purpose. Whilst each cooperative is distinctive in their own approach and priorities, they understand the value they can add back to their farmer members, the local environment and coffee communities.
The commitment of co-operatives to innovation in pursuit of this “added value” means they’re having a fantastic impact. To give an example, one of the cooperatives I visited, Cocafelol, is so concerned with using its resources efficiently and protecting the local environment that it has developed means for using 95% of the by-products from coffee processing, turning it into fertilisers for farmer members or biogas to help run their processing operations.
One of the most enjoyable parts of any visit to origin is getting to venture up into the hills to meet some of the cooperative members on their coffee farms. (In the case of the Capucas cooperative, this entailed careering up the dusty mountain trails on quadbikes with a police escort!). I met David, a longstanding member of the coop since it was founded in 1999, who told me about how the cooperative helped him to establish his livelihood, helping him to earn enough money to be able to provide for his children’s further education. On his 2.5 hectares he grows tomatoes in amongst his Catuai and Bourbon coffee, all of which is Organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified, an achievement he says he couldn’t have realised without the technical assistance he’s received from the cooperative.
Undoubtedly one of the most uplifting parts of the trip was the opening ceremony for a new computer centre in Capucas. The centre, designed for classes for school children and distance learning for University students in this remote community, was part-funded by one of our customers, Ground Espresso Bars, who also travelled to Honduras with us to be part of the inauguration. It was fantastic to facilitate a project that brought together a customer, passionate about great tasting coffee, with the community who dedicate themselves to supplying the great tasting coffee that Ground serves their customers in Ireland.
The inauguration ceremony was a true celebration of all the hard work that had gone into building the centre. We were joined by students who will be using the new facilities as well as many of their parents and cooperative members. Some of the older children treated us to a traditional dance performance.
Despite the brilliant role that coffee has undoubtedly played in providing improved economic opportunities to farmers in rural communities like Capucas, the coffee community here recognises that it can do more to improve living standards more broadly. The Communications Centre came about through the work of a charity called Fundación Amigos del Café or the “Friends of Coffee Foundation.” The charity was founded by coffee organisations, including the two suppliers I’ve mentioned, Capucas and COCAFELOL, and their partner processing mills, like Beneficio Santa Rosa, who jointly wanted to find further opportunities for addressing the social needs of coffee communities in Western Honduras.
Having had such a positive experience working with the Fundación on the project with Ground and seeing the impact the computer centre will have on the families of those in our supply chain, we have formally partnered with the charity and will be funding a social project with them each year. The amount we donate is determined by the number of completed customer report cards we receive (£15 per response) and amount of Gaia coffee blend we sell (10p per kg) over the year.
In 2016 we are funding a project called the “Healthy Families Programme”. The project will utilise the £12,000 we have donated so far to reach 36 families that are most in need in the community of Cruz Alta. It will train and equip them to live healthier, happier lives. Peter Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Fundación, explained to me why he was pleased we had chosen to fund the healthy families project saying, “We have trialled the project in other rural communities here where families need help in understanding basic sanitation and we have seen that by encouraging them to make small changes, which we take for granted, and giving them better equipment for their homes like water filters and fuel efficient stoves, it can make a huge difference to their quality of life.
There is of course, more work to be done, and we’ll keep you updated as the Healthy Families project progresses.