by Kimberly Easson
Nestled high (1750 – 1900m) in the mountains of Southern Ecuador, the El Batan coffee community harvests high quality, organic, Fair Trade Certified washed Arabica coffee. But coffee is not a year-round crop and a sustainable coffee community that provides food security for its members requires other forms of income.
That’s where the women of El Batan come in. I visited this farm to find out more about the link between food security and quality coffee; this connection has always been important to Equator, and it’s even more so as coffee farmers face climate change and a volatile coffee market.
The roots of the El Batan Coffee Co-op go back to 1986 when a group of three women (that later grew to 30) came together to find ways to earn income for their families. They took out small loans to start micro-enterprises such as growing and selling yucca in the local market. Years later, men joined the group and it became the foundation for the coffee farmer cooperative. This year, the President, Vice President, and Treasure of El Batan are all women. Overall, the women say that they work well together with the men, sharing duties on the farms, and participating in meetings. Of note though, and as is typical worldwide, housework is not recognized or valued and women still do more work than men overall.
Though coffee is the focus, the agricultural roots planted by the original female founders run deep. While the people of El Batan may be considered ‘poor’ in terms of their economic resources, a wide array of produce grows together with the coffee on small plots, providing shade and numerous food sources for home consumption and local sale. This diversity of production enables the community to better mitigate the effects of climate change and enhance food security.
Dona Flor’s Lush Farm
Dona Flor is just one of the many amazing, energetic women I met in the co-op. She knows how to take advantage of the richness of the land and the microclimate of El Batan to produce a wide variety of food. Dona Flor guided me through her lush one hectare plot and pointed out yucca, plantain, banana, grapefruit, avocado, orange, corn, chamomile, sugar cane, beans, sweet lemon, and other tropical fruits such as passion fruit, papaya, naranjilla, and chirimoya. To supplement what she grows on the farm, she buys beans, sugar, rice, oil, and butter at the local market. She also has chickens and a few pigs. From this, she and her brother (who is deaf/mute) can not only feed themselves, but also have food left over to sell, if the local market conditions are right.
But back to the coffee: Equator Coffee has been working with El Batan for four harvests. Equator’s customers love El Batan’s soft floral notes and sweet, balanced flavors of brown sugar and dark chocolate. It’s a crowd-pleasing coffee.
To ensure the continued success of the co-op and a steady supply of this fantastic coffee, Equator has issued numerous short term loans to facilitate the coffee harvest or enable members to invest in other farm, domestic or income-diversification projects. Many of the members are using the money to invest in irrigation for their farms to safeguard the harvest during unpredictable weather.
El Batan community is a founding member of Procafeq and Fapescafes, two cutting- edge farmer-owned organizations focusing on producing and exporting quality coffee with environmental and social benefit to farming communities across Southern Ecuador. Fair Trade certification assures democratic decision-making, community development, and transparency in the supply chain. Premiums and better prices through Fair Trade and direct relations with buyers like Equator enable producers to invest in planting a broader variety of food crops on their farms, which in turn leads to a nutrient rich, healthy diet for not only the farmers themselves, but also the broader community – essentially, greater food security.
We visit El Batan every year to foster a deep connection between farmer, roaster, and consumer. Knowing where their coffee ends up inspires and motivates El Batan’s members to continue their quest to produce the best quality coffee possible. Equally, the Equator team is proud to work with the El Batan community, and promote the coffee to their customers – recognizing that the connection throughout the supply chain strengthens its viability for the long-term. In an upcoming blog, we’ll cover how El Batan farmers use the loans we offer to strengthen their businesses.