In PART I, we discussed small coffee farmers position in Nicaragua, Direct-Trade, and the impact of climate change in Nicaragua.
Today we continue our discussion with Ben Weiner, president of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers, touching on seasonal food insecurity, crop-diversification, and proper harvesting techniques.
AMRDI: One trend that AMRDI has identified in Central America, and it’s been supported with numerous studies from Oxfam, University of Vermont, etc., is that despite this proliferation of Organic and Fair-Trade monikers, or even in the beginning of this Direct-Trade movement, seasonal food insecurity has not changed. In many regions, it has gotten even worse.
I was wondering if you had an opinion on why you think that might be the case? Theoretically, connecting producers and roasters through Direct-Trade or through other monikers, such as Organic and Fair-Trade, should increase the standard of living in these types of communities. In many cases it is not.
Ben: I would start by taking a look at USAID’s (United States Agency for International Development) statistics for food insecurity. I know that in nearby Guatemala there are very high levels of food insecurity and I am positive that there are very high levels of food insecurity all over Nicaragua, but to determine if those levels have increased or decreased in the past eight years, for example, I would definitely check out their statistics. They also have a future risk system for identifying urgent food insecurity time periods before they happen.
Anecdotally, and from our observations, we’ve seen continued food insecurity over the past decade working in Nicaragua. We’ve seen the least amount of food insecurity from the producers who are the most diversified.
There are some producers who also have carrot, potato, cabbage, and other crops and those are the producers who last the longest before asking us for access to credit, access to loans. There are other producers who depend 100% on coffee and those are the producers who have the highest amount of food insecurity because they are depending on income once a year.
Imagine that you and your family, Mike, or any of AMRDI’s members or readers, were to earn their entire living during two months of the year. That would be a great economic challenge. Also image that, in order to earn that living, they needed to take out loans for inputs to what they need to make or grow the product they are going to sell once a year. That’s a huge challenge and it’s miraculous that coffee producers meet that challenge consistently, year after year. We help them with access to credit and we have noticed that those who are the best-off are the producers that are able to diversify - to even out their income throughout the year.
You never know when you are going to have a family health emergency that may cause you to spend more than what you’ve planned, or some other difficult economic event. Even the most responsible of us can run into a large cost for a host of reasons.
AMRDI: These are all really great points, touching upon a lot of nuances of the coffee growing industry that our readers may not be aware of. Thank you.
You’ve spoken to this a little bit at the beginning, but I wanted to give you a bit more of a platform to do so... One major positive I’ve noted through your social media, especially with this year’s harvest, is this persistent, relentless pursuit of quality - quality plants, grown sustainably, harvested with impeccable detail. This is probably a dumb question, but are those standards difficult to employ? Or, has the community and the partner producers that you work with been very accepting to ripening bracelets, refractometers, and other examples you have provided?
Ben: It is very challenging to achieve consistently high-cupping coffee. We have been able to do so because of the incredible dedication and love of coffee that we and other coffee producers share. It’s a challenge for any producer to go from producing commercial level coffee, picked green, ripe, and anywhere in between, to picking perfectly-ripe coffee consistently, with high refractometer levels and very few defects.
Ben: Partner producers, and importantly their pickers, have now become accustomed to picking consistently-ripe coffee and we’ve seen cupping scores skyrocket as a result. Producers, roasters, and ultimately the public benefit. Roasters in the US are getting higher-cupping coffee. Producers are seeing a greater economic benefit from receiving higher prices and increased access to credit that they didn't have before working with us.
We also carry out social projects in coffee communities in Nicaragua, such as computer classes for girls from coffee communities, access to electricity for some producers as part of their quality premiums, or simply economic premiums for high-cupping coffee and other social projects. All of this depends on high-cupping coffee. Our social and environmental sides would be impossible if we did not concentrate on producing high-cupping coffee.
AMRDI: Agreed. One last question, if there are potential craft roasters in America, or outside America, that are reading this, what’s the one thing that you would like them to know about Gold Mountain?
Ben: Gold Mountain Coffee Growers exists in order to improve the situation of coffee producers and their communities in Nicaragua.
Roasters should know that they are receiving a quality product because our perspective is that everything we do depends on quality. We will not export coffee if it doesn’t cup well. We love being part of the third of fourth wave of coffee in order to have a wonderfully positive effect on coffee communities at origin.
AMRDI: Perfect! Ben, from all of us here at AMRDI, I want to thank you very much for your time. We look forward to a long, lasting relationship in facilitating Direct-Trade relationships and researching social issues in coffee growing communities to develop ground breaking ways to combat poverty, food insecurity, and other social needs.
If anyone reading has questions for Ben, please feel free to comment or email us at info@AMRDI.com. We would love to answer them when we are down at origin, in March.