Each March we look forward to spending a few weeks with our producer partners in Honduras. The COCAFCAL cooperative in Las Capucas, Copan is one of our longest-standing producer relationships, and 2018 marks the 11th (ELEVENTH!) year of COCAFCAL’s “Te Van a Conocer, Compa!” micro-lot competition. COCAFCAL has created a coffee eco-tourism oasis in the small-but-growing community of Las Capucas. The competition has evolved into a week-long event that provides invaluable educational opportunities to visitors, as well as a spectacular format for selecting superb Honduras micro-lot coffees.
This year’s competition featured 56 excellent micro-lot entries from farmer members of the COCAFCAL coop. Our group of buyers spent Wednesday & Thursday mornings cupping through these fine coffees, discussing each round to provide feedback to the farmers and coop staff. The discussions are always a great way for buyers to calibrate with each other and become more comfortable using the SCA cupping form. Friday morning’s cuppings were less formal evaluations of processing experiments and unique coffee varieties from several of COCAFCAL’s innovative farmers. The farmers find buyer feedback extremely useful, and it’s exciting to see our cupping notes help them determine what practices are and aren’t viable for improving their earnings.
Afternoons in Las Capucas were spent visiting their many adjunct programs, which include honey production, tilapia farming, a packaged dehydrated fruit and vegetable line, and even packaged bulk compost and liquid compost concentrates. COCAFCAL understands that coffee farming alone is not always enough for sustainable income and emphasizes opportunities for diversification and education as a benefit to their members.
Another one of our fascinating afternoon activities this year was visiting a local coffee farmer to see a demonstration parcel being managed by the Hanns R. Neumann Foundation (also called HRNS). The Foundation is a non-profit development organization founded by the Neumann Family of the Neumann Kaffee Group (NKG), of which Atlas is the newest member company. We are very happy to be connected through this relationship to the Foundation’s programs and resources. It is especially exciting for us to see the good work already being done by HRNS in our existing supply chains!
HRNS does amazing development work in many components of the coffee supply chain, including sustainable and profitable coffee production, youth empowerment, gender equality and climate change adaptation. The foundation has a great document summarizing their programs here.
Climate change is the major focus of HRNS in the coffee farming areas around Las Capucas, and for good reason. Many of coffee’s natural enemies, such as coffee leaf rust (la roya) and the coffee berry borer (la broca) thrive in hot, humid conditions. Our favorite Arabica varieties with the sweetest cup tend to be the most susceptible to damage, but for the most part are grown at high elevations with relatively cool climates. In recent years, Arabica coffee trees in many areas of Central America are being damaged by la roya and la broca like never before, even when grown at high elevations. Extreme and volatile weather both directly and indirectly contribute to the damage in ways one might not expect, but every farmer we talk to agrees that the climate is changing. “Warming” is often inferred from “climate change,” but currently as much damage is being done by extreme cold and rainfall as is being done by extreme heat and drought. Along with these extreme weather changes, la roya and la broca are gradually being seen at higher and higher elevations, impacting delicate Arabica farms for the first time in these farms’ history.
HRNS has identified a couple of key factors that may help farms prepare to resist these eventual and inevitable environmental changes. In trials at low-elevation farms (<1,000 masl) with hotter climates, HRNS technicians have lowered soil temperature and increased soil nutrition and water retention by adjusting coffee tree spacing (without reducing density,) and planting nitrogen and nutrient-fixing ground cover and shade trees. Methods for improving farm health at low elevations can be transposed directly to maintaining farm health at higher elevations (>1,300 masl) with cool climates. This practice not only protects the farm from increasing temperatures, but also fortifies the farm to better resist all types of extremes.
HRNS has partnered with USAID in these efforts in a project called the Alliance for Resilient Coffee (ARC,) which utilizes a groundbreaking online resource that HRNS developed called the Coffee & Climate Toolbox. The Coffee & Climate Toolbox is open source, available in Spanish, Portuguese and Vietnamese as well as English, and includes the C&C Sourcebook, a step-by-step guide to supporting coffee farmers in adapting to climate change.
We’re proud of the work that HRNS is doing in Las Capucas and are excited to see how the demonstration plots in the community flourish with these forward-thinking farming methods. We’ve gotten to know many of COCAFCAL’s members on a close, personal basis, and we all want their farms to continue to thrive for many years to come. Speaking of, the top 10 ranking coffees from the “Te Van a Conocer, Compa!” micro-lot competition were spectacular! Sr. Enrique Nuñes is a previous competition winner and won 1st place again this year. Three of the top 10 farmers were women, including two of the top five winners. The 3rd and 5th place winners are sisters, and the 5th place winner Iris Alvarado is COCAFCAL’s quality control manager! Lots to be excited about, and a few of these micro-lots will be showing up on our offer lists very soon, so stay tuned!