Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ok sorry if my last blog seemed solemn and brooding. I was a bit frustrated and tired of beating my head against the wall of the Honduran educational system. Things are much better this week, my rollercoaster is peaking. I had a very productive week with the various groups that I’m working with. The biggest highlight of the week was working with our coffee cooperative: Cooperativa Cafetalera Mixta Tecauxinas Limitada (COCAMITEL). The fact that we now have a name is a huge step, trust me. Tecauxinas is the Lencan (indigenous) name for Cruz Alta. It means Tierra de Brujo or land of witches. Sometimes I wish it meant land of sandwiches, it is impossible to get a good sandwich in this country unless you make the seven hour trip to San Pedro Sula to Quiznos or some other multinational franchise. But that is neither here nor there. So someday soon I hope to be sitting at Starbucks drinking a cup of Cruz Alta shade grown. That is actually our major goal to be selling our coffee straight to Starbucks: to take part in the global market. To get something out of CAFTA (The Central American Free Trade Agreement) other than toxin spewing maquilas and multinational owned fruit production that has no respect for worker rights (this statement, as with all others on this Blog, in no way reflects the opinion of the United States or Honduran Governments or that of the Peace Corps).

So in order to become an official cooperative the individual farmers have to adhere to specific standards set by some governing body that I can’t remember off the top of my head. They don’t have do go completely organic but are encouraged to use organic processes where possible (fertilizing and pest management for example). If they can’t use organic methods they must use the least toxic chemical ones. Agricultural chemicals are color coded do demonstrate their severity, red is very bad, green isn’t as bad. Our farmers have to use green products, if anything. They also stress the fact that they are certifying not only the farmer’s finca (land used for producing coffee) but his/her (there are at least two female land owners in our area) entire land area, including their house. So everything has to be in order, land has to be fenced in with live fences (made from trees or agave plants), designated with signs and mapped, houses have to be kept in order with no chemicals stored inside, trash has to be picked up everywhere and appropriate receptacles have to be placed in their farms and around houses, and latrines have to be built in the fields for coffee pickers. Worker rights are also stressed; producers must pay workers a minimum wage. Children may work but can only pick coffee, they can carry heavy loads (this is a huge step in the right direction trust me). Gender fairness is also obligatory; at least thirty percent female participation is required in the cooperative. This requirement is going to be tough; our meetings generally have twenty to forty men and one or two women. Above everything else, we must strive to improve the quality of our product while reducing environmental impact. As mentioned in previous posts, coffee production is an extremely sensitive process. Quantity is the deciding factor in production here, quality is not stressed at the local level and the guy who works hard to maintain it sells his coffee at the same price as the guy who doesn’t.

This is all a huge step in the right direction for Cruz Alta, I am fortunate to be here at this time. Our cooperative seemed to be dragging its feet for the longest time. We would meet once a month and simply talk about all the things we needed. This week we not only met but signed a constitution of sorts, paid the required judicial fee, and started the certification process.

Sustainability is the major buzzword in the development world. For me sustainability is a lot like the tooth fairy, it simply doesn’t exist. I’m not sure if anyone is ensuring our environmental resources for future generations. I think some people are doing what we can to reduce our impact. Optimal is a much better term for the kind of development we are in search of. I don’t think coffee production and sustainability should be used in the same sentence unless you are talking about local production. If you are drinking coffee that was produced within a thirty miles from your house you may have an argument. Coffee is a cash crop, not a sustenance crop and the need for cheap, subsidized transportation (and cheap subsidized energy) is too great. I’m not knocking coffee; I love a good cup of coffee as much as the next guy. But I cringe when I hear people use the word sustainable. I want to hear words like responsible instead, let’s buy products that reduce environmental impact and stress worker rights and social justice. Let’s buy coffee from Tecauxinas, who would know a good brew better than brujos. Alright alright, it is back to isolation for me, until next time, Joe


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