Guatemala Coffee TripPart 1
Guatemala, Coffee and the Volcafé Way
We recently had the opportunity to spend some time visiting coffee mills and farms in Guatemala. Wow! What a fantastic experience. We drank a TON of fantastic coffee, cupped some stellar samples that might make their way here this year and learned more about coffee than any human should be allowed to learn in a weeks time.
The trip was sponsored by Genuine Origin (GO) – a division of Volcafé Specialty Coffee. The purpose of the trip was to show us what Volcafé / GO is doing to help farmers in coffee growing communities around the world. If you’ve been around for any period of time, you’re well aware of how much we love to work with organizations that teach farmers how to grow great coffee.
What Is the Volcafé Way?
There are many ways we can assist farmers in coffee growing communities. Particularly in areas that are under resourced. We can provide water, education, schools, micro loans, build processing mills, provide resources to farmers and the list goes on. Lots of fantastic organizations do these things and more.
But, really, what’s the bottom line for any coffee farmer?
If the work they put into their farm – no matter how big or small that farm is – does not net them a profit at the end of the day, they will stop farming, stop putting resources into the farm and sometimes, completely abandon the coffee farm.
This is where the Volcafé Way starts. They provide resources and a plan that helps farmers become more profitable. Often times, farms have been in a family for decades – generations even. And farming techniques are handed down from generation to generation. They don’t always have the most up-to-date farming techniques or knowledge that will help them coax a few more pounds of coffee (and, as a result, profit) out of that coffee plant each year.
How Does The Volcafé Way Work?
So glad you asked. At a certain level, Volcafé works with each farm providing them with a unique plan that, if followed, will result in an improved crop and more profit year over year. Trained agronomists partner with farmers to work out a plan that consists of several different components.
Some of the key things Volcafé agronomists do that we learned about include (but are definitely not limited to):
- New Pruning Techniques: did you know coffee cherries only grow on new plant growth? The part of the plant that bore fruit this year won’t bear fruit next year. So they need to prune the tree appropriately to keep it growing new fruit.
- New Planting Layouts: For generations, coffee farmers have planted coffee trees 1.5 meters apart and the rows of trees about 2 meters apart. If they plant the rows 3 meters apart and the trees a little less than 1 meter apart, they now have room to plant other crops in between the coffee without losing out on any coffee crop. Those other crops could include corn, soybeans, other vegetables, and a whole host of things.
- Fertilization: Fertilizer is one of the most expensive inputs any farmer has to his farm. Most farmers apply fertilizer to their trees twice a season. Unfortunately, this is too much fertilizer at one time and is not effective. It requires more fertilizer to accomplish the same task. If they apply less fertilizer in total and apply it in 5 applications instead of just 2, it is much more effective (and, just so you are aware, fertilizer is not necessarily chemical in nature – it can be compost or all natural fertilizer).
But Wait – There’s More!
These techniques are all well and good, but if they just give the farmers ideas and then walk away, it really doesn’t change anything. Volcafé is looking for long-term improvement in coffee growing communities. Here’s how they accomplish that.
- Lay out a yearly plan with the farmers and schedule when tasks will be done (pruning, fertilization, etc) along with specific plans for how it will be done (amounts, pruning methods)
- Use technology (iPads, data entry) to track that these tasks are being completed on time. It would be great to go and actually look at the farms to verify this, but when the farm is 7 or 8 hours drive from the main office and you have 25 or 30 farms to work with, that’s a little bit more than you can handle.
- Develop “model farms” in communities to work as test beds that other farms, when they see the result, will want to emulate.
Is it Working?
Yes. Most definitely. We’re very excited to be continuing to work with Genuine Origin. It follows exactly our mission of working with organizations who teach. And the benefits we’ve seen already are making a huge impact on the coffee growing communities where Volcafé is working.