My Trip to Guatemala - Coffee Learning at Origin

Marialy Justiniano President and Owner

Cervantes Coffee Roasters

November 6 to 12, 2016

Cervantes Coffee is a specialty roaster serving the Washington DC Metro area with Single Origin Coffees from around the world since 2011. The company focuses on South and Central American origins where it has relationships with farmers and their organizations. The company is a woman owned and run business and hires youth and young professionals from Northern Virginia. Below is a trip report prepared by the owner upon her return sharing some of the important things about coffee production and farmer cooperatives. 

Learnings at origin. The trip allowed me to learn more about all the work and effort that goes on at origin with farmers and the cooperatives they work with. It allowed me to appreciate in more detail the different aspects of production and processing that have an impact on the quality of the coffee we serve and sell.

The importance of composting. The implementation of compost techniques and processing has become a central part of waste and input management for the farmers we visited. I learned that one of the key ways by which these techniques are adopted and used by farmers is when there is a strong central organization such as  FECCEG, who can train a large number of smaller cooperatives or farmers. We noticed this is important because FECCEG can act as a repository of all that knowledge and information on techniques. Because of their limitations, farmers don’t always have access to computers and systematic methods for capturing all the learning and data. Therefore the cooperatives and organizations like FECCEG can play this important role.For example we learned that the farmers have to be very careful in the selection of trees that will serve as shade for the coffee plantations. The degree of coverage and type of tree can have an effect on the sunlight exposure, timing of the flowering, and nutrients that end up in the coffee plant itself. 


The use of compost combined with plant nutrients and organic fertilizers is providing very important yield improvements. Such is the case of Manos Campesinas, which have a strong program for use of compost with their farmers. We were able to notice that in the production of compost and its application, women play a very important role making sure there is the correct use of waste and water. The compost is managed and prepared at the farm level with members of the cooperative.

In the case of ASUVIM, the compost was actually prepared at the coop level and distributed to farmers members of the cooperative. In all instances farmers are trained on the use of compost and its benefits.

Young farmers. In the case of ASUVIM, and other coops, we learned that young people are starting to look at the coffee farm as a business once they see the yields and production is improving and therefore they have hope that in the future the farm will continue to be profitable. This is important because if young people do not see a future in coffee, they will migrate to the cities or other countries and the coffee production will come down. The more opportunities the coffee farm, and the farm in general can provide, the more likely at least some of the children will stay on the farm.

We noticed that young people are also getting more involved at the cooperative level working as technicians and quality control experts. Most of the cooperatives we visited had some level of knowledge of cupping, and the younger farmers are being trained in the importance and use of cupping as a method for quality control and grading.

Farm diversification. This last point leads to the issue of farm diversification. We learned from the visits that many farms are implementing diversification techniques. For example in some places they are producing sugar cane next to the coffee farms, honey production, peanut production and dairy production. This is good because it allows them to make better use of their resources and land, and it also allows them to generate other income from other activities. Specifically in the case of honey production, the cooperatives play an important role as centralize buying and marketing agents. So the cooperatives purchase the honey, process it, package it and resell it most often to wholesale buyers or exporters.

 Applying our learning to Cervantes Coffee.

Telling the story. Our business model from the very beginning was trying to convey the story of the farmers to the consumers. Be them retail individual buyers or our wholesale clients. So the trip will help us in develop better stories with more accurate information about the farm production systems and the livelihood aspects of the farmers we buy from. This will increase the interest from our customers and buyers to learn about the origin of the coffee so that they better value the product we are selling.

Fairtrade Direct Trade and Organic. To us it also helps explain why we also charge a higher price because we transfer that better price to the farmer through more direct channels but also because of better quality coffee that we obtain. Also organic and fair trade coffees have a higher price which is how we believe we can make a difference in the coffees we buy.

How can we continue to promote these exchanges. I think these kind of experiences of travel and exchange between North American buyers, traders and retailers and the origin, are fundamental for this business model to be successful. A business model that is based on direct trade relations, and stronger ties between North America and Latin America. These exchanges promote transparency, and the flow of information about the farmers, and the production conditions and origin of the products we buy. This will continue to be the future of trade for specialty products like cocoa, coffee, honey, and other crops produced in South and Central America. I feel the trip has not only benefitted me and my business, but it has encouraged my business model which my competitors are also looking to emulate and therefore they will also be seeking for transparency and direct relations. It is important to continue promoting these activities because of the great value they generate.

I look forward to another trip to Guatemala. Maybe next time with my family.


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