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Adapting the Honduras coffee industry for the future

From the September 2017 issue.

In a six-year long project with Jacobs Douwe Egberts, the COHONDUCAFÉ Foundation is providing necessary training and resources for 15,000 smallholder farmers.

Honducafe

Three years ago, Edwin Antonio Muñoz Borjas was just an average Honduran coffee farmer managing his family’s plot the way every local smallholder farmer did: the way his father taught him, which was the way his father taught him. Borjas had been growing coffee since he was a boy, and now the 1.4-hectare coffee farm was his. With various tools and tricks of the trade passed down over the generations, he and other farmers throughout the remote coffee-growing regions of Honduras worked with what they knew and the limited resources they had.

Then in 2013, the Cohonducafé Foundation launched a new initiative in partnership with Dutch coffee giant Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) to provide training to Honduras’ coffee growers and help them adapt and thrive in the changing global industry. The industry that their grandfathers once knew and operated in has changed drastically in line with increasing global demand for the commodity, climate change, greater instance of pests and diseases and other economic factors.

The team at Cohonducafé Foundation worked with staff at JDE to evaluate key indicators in the market and narrow down the project’s objectives, explains Project Manager Edgar Joel Castro. “We conducted value-chain analysis to identify what our priorities should be.”

In phase one, they focused on three objectives: increasing coffee producers’ business skills to help them better manage their farms, increasing production in a sustainable way through better agricultural and environmental practices, and bolstering participation in the coffee industry through gender equity, youth education and strengthening producer organisations.

Regarding the third objective, Castro says “statistics show that producers are slowly transitioning out of the industry. Some are giving up coffee for other crops, others are moving to the city for different opportunities and others are even leaving the country”.

Compañia Hondureña del Café has been supporting coffee growers in Honduras for four years, leading initiatives based on sustainable productivity, economic growth, social responsibility and environmental stewardship. Since its inception in 2013, the foundation has supported more than 20,000 coffee farmers.

Phase one ran from 2013 to 2016 with the goal of providing necessary training and resources to 15,000 growers – 7000 in the first year and 4000 in each of the second and third years. Although the project was successful, the last 4000 growers didn’t fully complete the program and so the foundation launched a second phase last year.

Additionally, some new objectives were added to largely target the effects of climate change – a key obstacle that Borjas says has negatively affected the growth and development of his low-altitude plants so much that productivity has fallen by nearly 40 per cent.

“Phase two has the added goals of climate change adaptation and mitigation, and watershed management and reforestation,” Castro tells Global Coffee Report. “In the past four years, there has been a significant increase in coffee cultivation with farmers taking down forest to create or expand coffee farms. So we’re helping them learn how to expand without taking down trees and actually participate in reforestation.”

Honducafe

Training modules on watershed maintenance and reforestation will also be shared with the participants in phase one, but the last 4000 growers of the project will remain the focus for the duration of the three-year period, from 2016 to 2019.

Through the foundation’s connection with Cohonducafé, the largest exporter of coffee in Honduras, and partnership with JDE, the project gained access to the coffee companies’ extensive networks and superior logistics. “We had direct business relationships with more than 40,000 producers,” says Castro. “We believe that if they weren’t part of this, it would have been much more complicated.”

The foundation also has strategic alliances with 30 different organisations, from universities and municipalities to local and international NGOs.

“These alliances have helped us reach more producers and have a greater impact,” he says. “If we were alone in this, it would be much more difficult to have an impact at the level that we’ve had.”

Until the project launch, farmer Borjas had been growing coffee without any technical training or assistance, he says, and instead was approaching weed control, pruning and fertilisation without truly understanding the needs of the crop. But after working with the Cohonducafé Foundation as part of this project, he has improved the sustainability of his farm through proper approaches to fertilisation, waste management, soil maintenance and shade strategy.

“I have increased productivity up to 50 per cent,” he tells GCR. “All of this thanks to the support provided by the Cohonducafé Foundation, which is not limited only to me but [rather] to many producers in the area.”

As Borjas says, his success story is just one of many. As a result of the project, one of JDE's major brands decided to produce a limited edition of this particular farmer’s coffee.

And “one of the better-performing producers was able to obtain the 4C standard and was even invited to the Global Coffee Platform’s annual meeting”, adds Castro.

Though not all farmers have seen this level of success, the positive impact Castro speaks of truly has been widespread.

“Being able to see the transition from before to after is simply amazing, especially seeing how they are now committed with themselves [because they have seen] how this has changed their lives,” says Cohonducafé Foundation Project and International Relations Manager Eduardo Rivera.

“Coffee productivity has increased, deforestation has turned into reforestation, and diseases have been reduced. This is what really makes us proud of the work carried out, to see the positive impact it has on the families.”

A secondary aspect of the project is support for the farming communities and their families. Funding and resources from the project have gone toward constructing and renovating four local schools.

There are plans for two more. Additionally, more than 200,000 notebooks have been distributed to children in these and other schools. Says Rivera: “e believe in giving the new generations our full support and the necessary tools to prepare for a better future.”

These steps are in line with the project’s third objective of bolstering participation in the coffee industry through youth education. Adds Castro: “Because coffee farming is a family business, it’s up to the next generation to be part of the coffee supply chain.”

Honducafe

With coffee being Honduras’ main export and the country ranking number one in Central America and number five in the world for coffee exports, more than 120,000 of its households depend on the coffee industry, according to the Cohonducafé Foundation.

The industry employs a million people across all coffee-related activities, such as harvesting, fertiliser application, shade control, cleaning, drying, commercialisation, transportation and other services.

Through the current project, Castro says overall productivity has increased 25 per cent. In 2016, Honduras produced 5.93 million 60-kilogram bags of green coffee, according to the USDA’s FAS annual GAIN Report. Although the local industry was affected by the coffee leaf rust epidemic that hit Central and South America in 2012, the impact was lessened by leveraging rust-resistant varieties. Renovation and support efforts, similar to those from the Cohonducafé Foundation, contributed to increased productivity and volume, according to the report.

“Coffee producers associations and international organisations have implemented short, medium, and long-term strategies to fight the coffee leaf rust,” says the GAIN Report.

“These strategies have been focused on producer training, educational campaigns and technical assistance to increase coffee quality and farm productivity in areas not affected by the rust. The approach has also been to strengthen the producers affected by coffee rust with capacities for the renovation and rehabilitation of plantations.”

With initiatives like these, including the Cohonducafé Foundation’s, Honduras is in good shape to keep up with the changing industry and maintain its strong position in coffee production and exporting. GCR

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