Hidden in the crevices of lush hills and long dirt roads, a diamond in the rough is found at the top of the Capucas mountains in Copan, Honduras. Café Capucas Co-op (Cooperativa Cafetalera Capucas Ltda.) a community and generational coffee co-op made up of local coffee farmers and their corresponding families. This organization was built by coffee growers for coffee growers, as a goal is to educate growers in business, agricultural farming techniques, financial stability and successfully maintain the highest quality of coffee.
When the Houston Coffee Collective was given the opportunity to visit this location, we were eager to find out more about the people who made up this organization. This story needed to be told through our platform. We wanted to humanize the farm to cup process and the people who continue to cultivate it.
Throughout our week in Honduras, we spoke to several farmers, visited their micro lots, spoke with green buyers, roasters, and ultimately watched a tediously long process unfold. We built relationships with the people who had dedicated their lives to this commodity, whether that was intentional or as a means to survive. This was the side of coffee people needed to familiarize themselves with.
We spoke with Francisco Villeda also known as “Don Panchito”, a grower in Capucas. Panchito is a longtime member of the co-op and had invited us into his home to get to know his story. His demeanor was soft spoken, and his smile inviting. His home is his mill, and everyday he lives and breathes coffee. He wakes up early in the morning regardless of weather and starts his routine, his work ritual. From then on he does whatever it takes to keep his farm thriving.
Ever since he was a child, Don Panchito began his agricultural profession in Capucas to sustain his family. Day in and day out throughout the years he would become an expert through experience.
“I built everything, and I worked for everything. Life on the coffee farm taught me what to do. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. Even along with its dark days. This process, like any agricultural process, requires lots of labor that isn’t always accessible. There are times when buyers demand more than I can produce, and it can get difficult. Especially for a low price. Our work here truly is handcrafted. We live poorly as you can see, but we are happy. What I dedicate my life to makes me happy.”
Challenges like these are only a small percentage of why coffee has become less sustainable financially for people like Don Panchito. Many farmers in the area have to invest and divide their time into two or more crops to sustain themselves year-round.
The economic imbalance between the price of coffee at which it is sold, and the wages distributed to the growers often are overlooked when the average consumer sips their daily mug. The narrative behind every sack of green coffee eventually becomes neglected. It is our responsibility, as a coffee community, to be aware of this demanding labor to thus ethically consume coffee.
The Intercontinental Commodity Exchange is a mass marketplace that determines an average cost per ounce in coffee. Expectedly, this isn’t always in best interest for micro-lot farmers. “Because the market prices for coffee have fallen considerably in recent years, the proceeds from coffee sales are frequently no longer sufficient to cover the production costs, something which hits small farmers particularly hard.” (Market’s Insider).
We spoke with Omar Rodriguez, one of the founders of Capucas Coffee Co-op. Omar had inherently become the main point of contact for Capucas farmers as well as green buyers. He educates himself in related business matters and speaks fluent English to accommodate his international guests.
“The labor costs just simply can’t be covered. Not with the current market. The only way to really gain a financial advantage is by advocating for fair-trade coffee. Which isn’t easy to obtain. Not everyone wants to pay those fair wages unfortunately”. Omar states, “That is why we have been pushing on selling other crops in efforts to keep afloat in this economy. But in the end, we can only to so much. We just have to have faith in what we do”.
During our stay, we had an opportunity to speak with a buyer from Korea who spoke about her buying process and what that entails. On-Yu , Na from Museo Co. is a SCAA Cupping Judge, CQI Q Grader, and the “Team Director” for her roasting dept. She had been traveling throughout Central America over the past two months looking for rare coffees to buy. “Korea has a limited amount of coffee when it comes to diversity. And when we do expand into different regions, we are only looking for top quality lots” explains On-Yu. “Esmeralda Gesha from Panama is a popular coffee on the market right now, because green buyers know that this will always sell regardless of price. Unsuccessfully, Honduran coffee is quite seldom in our market. There is still a lot of potential here but people are hesitant to visit, perhaps because of the dangers we hear or the lack of coffee quality people talk about.”
While the current financial coffee market is catastrophically low, one of the most devastating elements in growing regions is a crop fungal called “roya” or “coffee rust”. “Coffee leaf rust, also known as Roya, is caused by the fungus Hemileia Vastatrix. It infects individual coffee leaves, eventually inhibiting the plant’s ability to produce coffee cherries, which is where the coffee that we drink daily comes from. Once a coffee tree becomes infected it will stop producing coffee cherries which leads to dwindling harvests for farmers and less coffee to sell. Since coffee trees take 3-5 years to start producing cherries, cutting down infected trees is not an option for most farmers.” (Fair trade Certified)
This disease has been affecting coffee producing countries in a rapid and aggressive way inevitably due to climate change.
The USAID/Texas A&M-Project (Central America Coffee Resilience) program has been proactively trying to create a substantial change for farmers affected by the challenges of climate change. “The project has partnered with the CAPUCAS Cooperative in Honduras, which is providing the support of knowledge transfer in the region, functioning as a training center for coffee producers who receive training aimed at increasing their knowledge about the cultivation of resilient coffee, the efficient management of natural resources and farm diversification with respect to the production of coffee to improve their quality of life, that of their families and community around the producers’ organizations.” (The Borlauge Institute). Having an incredible resource such as the Central America Coffee Resilience program, this helps promote a positive outlook on coffee and a hopeful guidance through this industry.
Maribel Perez, like many, is a farmer who has experienced “la roya” first hand. After her husband passed in 2013, she was left with a massive workload and a family to care for. “2013 was the hardest year of my life. Not only was I grieving for my husband, I had been left with several farms to care for and a family to raise. I had to toughen up and callous my hands.”
For Maribel, being the matriarch of her family while managing several farms, her life undeniably became overwhelming. In a stoic manner she explained, “This is all I know. Ever since I was a little girl, I had worked with my parents on these farms and then now on my own. The only thing we can do is to keep protecting what we have, to continue our legacy.” When visiting her “fincas” Maribel showed us the incredible amount of work and money that she had invested into maintaining her production. “I have to pay for my labor you know. There are families that need to be fed and children who need to be raised. This is immensely stressful, but I do it. Because coffee is what we do, it is who we are.”
Her son Carlos Perez, who is now 22, had to grow up quickly in order to assist his mother with the intensive labor. With a positive nature, he shares his struggles and perceptivity. “Everyone in Capucas is family, we work hard, and we look out for one another. Without this community we wouldn’t have made it. We needed to depend on one another”.
The community in Capucas, had shared their stories and their struggles in hopes to create a conversation. The work never stops, and people of this region continue to put forth into their legacy and family traditions. Friendly and hospitable, they open their doors to visitors who are willing to listen and engage in a discussion essential to coffee.