by David Pohl
Helen Russell, Maria Cleaveland and David Pohl recently returned from a two week tour of Central America.
First stop Nicaragua: Equator attended the annual "Let's Talk Coffee" (LTC) event put on by Sustainable Harvest, a coffee importer in Portland. This event is the cornerstone of the innovative approach taken by Sustainable Harvest to importing coffee - a focus on fostering a deeper understanding of both supply and demand side issues and opportunities facing the specialty coffee industry through direct communication. To accomplish this LTC brings together once a year 300 coffee professionals from the entire supply chain - roasters, importers (Sustainable Harvest), exporters, growers, financial institutions, academics, and governmental agencies like US AID -at LTC. The informal exchanges as well as the planned symposium at LTC are nothing short of incredible in that they bring so many voices to bear on challenging issues at one time. For example, Equator and Sustainable Harvest presented our "Pulp to Protein" pilot project in Tanzania at LTC. The response was overwhelmingly positive and after the event people were approaching us and Sustainable to find ways to partner on projects in their communities, or with their agencies. In other words, out of these encounters come real results, with a real impact on the coffee chain of custody. We were also pleased to meet with all of our coffee partners that use Sustainable Harvest as their importer, including Fapecafes, Ecuador, Mig, Rwanda, Raos, Honduras, Kanyouvu, Tanzania, as well as Corpoagro, Sierra Nevada and Inconexus, Colombia. These meetings resulted in renewed contracts, discussions of difficulties and goals for the future. Prior to the event, David Pohl spent three days with Aldea Global and its partners in the Sopegsa Cooperative. David was able to visit many of the 17 members of Sopegsa, a coop in the states of Madriz and Esteli, and discuss progress since the last micro-credit project two years ago. While there are many challenges facing coffee growers in Nicaragua, chief among them the lack of access to credit, Sopegsa has been able to consistently provide Equator with excellent coffees. We are proud to have them as a partner and plan to roll over the micro-credit loan this coming year for other quality related investments!
Next Stop, Panama: Helen and David left Managua and headed for Panama. For five days they toured Finca Sofia, Equator's fledgeling coffee farm in Volcan, Panama. They witnessed the great advances this farm has taken in less than two years, as well as some of the challenges it currently faces. On the bright side, about 75% of the trees planted are thriving, and should begin to produce a small amount of coffee in the next two years. The remaining 25% of coffee is struggling due to insufficient shade on a farm that finds itself at staggering altitudes (1800-2125 meters). Quite simply the amount of shade in this sector needs to be increased to allow the plants to survive in an otherwise capricious environment. We are exploring shade alternatives at the moment, but for the most part will have to wait for native and fruit shade trees to become established over the coming years.
Last Stop, Costa Rica: Helen and David spent one day at Exclusive Coffees, an exporter, in Costa Rica on the way home. They cupped micro-lot Costa Ricas as well as Ecuadors (a country Exclusive is becoming involved in) and visited Montes de Oro in Tarrazu. Exclusive is one of a new generation of coffee exporters that was born out of a desire to put quality and traceability above all else. As a result they have pionerred the "micro-lot" turning it from a nich idea into a solid, mainstream market.