Mr. Saleh a village-level collector with the Tamas Mumanang village that produces Permata Gayo coffee.

The farmers of Permata Gayo were ready to produce their highest-quality coffee ever.  By November, the bright white coffee flowers had transformed into budding green fruits, and the limbs of their coffee trees were swollen with promise.  A new processing facility was ready to receive ripe, red cherries that would turn into export-grade green coffee.

Then the rains came.  And they stayed longer than normal.   The sun that was needed to ripen coffee cherries and bring sweetness to the seed inside, was scarce this season.

As a result, Permata Gayo is anticipating a 25-30 percent drop in yield from last year’s coffee harvest.  But they are the lucky ones, according to Florent Gout, a green coffee buyer with Cooperative Coffees. “From an island perspective, they say that the loss is about 50 percent,” Florent said of the coffee harvest in Sumatra, Indonesia, one of coffee’s most popular origins.

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It’s fitting that “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples” (Aug. 9) falls squarely in the middle of “National Coffee Month” (August).

Nearly all our coffees come from indigenous communities around the world. The contributions of indigenous peoples to specialty coffee are exceptional, and we would have little to offer our customers without the hard work of people like the Ixil in the Guatemalan Highlands or the Gayo in the mountains of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia.

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Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar Cual Bicicleta Coop Coffees

We are headed to a coffee farm named “Cual Bicicleta”, or “Which Bicycle”? I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical farm – actually nothing about Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar is typical! Oscar is a passionate soil advocate – his farm is an incredible living testament to the organic farmer’s mantra “Feed the soil.. let the soil feed the plant”. Take a few minutes to read Monika’s blog post chronicling her eye-opening visit to Oscar’s farm. We loved any opportunity to connect coffee and bicycling.. but didn’t expect to run across this connection in Honduras!

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More than half of Chajulense members coffee fields have been lost to roya and will undergo complete renovation.

Cafe Campesino launched its first Birding and Coffee Tour of Guatemala in February 2014, visiting three regions in nine days, including Chajul (and its environs) in the Guatemalan Highlands where we source coffee. We logged more than 100 species of birds on the trip, visiting Antigua, near Guatemala City, Chajul, in the Quiche department, and St. Lucas Toliman, located on the southwestern shores of Lake Atitlan. We also got first-hand accounts of the 2013-2014 harvest from coffee farmer members of the Asociacion Chajulense who are desperately battling the spread of Roya.

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Coffee Roya

Roya- or coffee “rust”- is an orange fungus that grows on the leaves of coffee plants, causing them to whither and fall off. It reduces coffee production and eventually causes plants to die, and it is quickly spreading through Central America. We witnessed the effects of roya during our trip to Guatemala in January, and shortly after our return, the Guatemalan government issued a national coffee emergency, anticipating some 70 percent of its 2013 coffee harvest to be affected by the fungus. Bill, who on the trip visited the same small-scale farm of Chel-based Pedro Pacheco Bop that he visited in 2011, saw a drastic change. “I was shocked. It was not the lush green coffee forest that we saw 2 years ago. His farm was noticeably different.”

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Lend money to a farmer who produces your cup of coffee. Root Capital agricultural investorFinding affordable financing is one of the greatest challenges facing small-scale farmers. Like any business, farmer co-ops need access to capital until money starts coming in from their sales. Farmers need to make improvements to their land, investments in their crops and purchases that keep their families fed and children healthy.

Some organizations will lend to small-farmer cooperatives, even though those loans are seen as highly risky by finance institutions. Nonprofit social investment funds like Cambridge, MA-based Root Capital lend to farmer groups at manageable interest rates, but all too often, farmer groups get loans from institutions in their home countries where interest rates can be as high as 25 percent.

Interest rates as high as 25 percent will forever keep farmers in a cycle of poverty.

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Julia Salinas of LA FEM harvests ripe coffee cherries in Nicaragua. Photo by Julia Baumgartner for Cafe Campesino. September 2012

La Fundacion Entre Mujeres is a well-organized all-women’s NGO in northern Nicaragua that is committed to selling quality, Fair Trade coffee while simultaneously supporting the ideological, economic, and political empowerment of rural women. La FEM supports female empowerment through a variety of projects that include an education program that promotes literacy; a gender equality-focus in primary and secondary schools; education in alternative careers (such as sustainable development); the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights; access to health services for women; a community network of rural defenders that help stop violence; diversified and organic food production and a strategy for the economic empowerment of women. All projects are carried out with a focus of sustainable economic development for the adults and youth that these programs reach. Through such programs, women from the rural communities are able to participate and be real actors in transforming their own realities, making decisions in the development politics carried out by la FEM.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

This little guy is called the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Every spring, he flies 500 or more miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to spend his summer in the Eastern U.S. & Canada. He is commonly found in Georgia and throughout the Southeast, which serve as his breeding grounds during the summer months. When he leaves in the fall, he travels to ecologically diverse forests in Mexico, Central America and South America where he can find food and habitat to spend the winter. Shade-grown coffee farms provide some of this habitat. Increasingly in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, ecologically diverse forests throughout Central and South America have been clear-cut, often to grow large fields of one crop that is meant to be produced in large volumes. Some coffee is grown this way. This type of farming destroys the ecological diversity of an area, attracts pests and requires high-inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to keep crops alive.

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