Fairtrade Latin America and Jasper Coffee reveal why providing support for Honduras Fairtrade coffee farmers isn’t just about coffee production.
COVID-19 lockdowns and border restrictions, coupled with a coffee leaf rust epidemic, have limited coffee production in Central and Latin America. In Honduras, bad became worse when two Category 4 hurricanes hit at the end of 2020.
Fairtrade supported its producing partners in Honduras through different initiatives such as the Relief and Economic Recovery Funds, that has helped provide farmers in need with food supplies and resources throughout COVID-19. Economic initiatives such as Fairtrade’s Climate and Catastrophic Events Fund have supported these farmers dealing with extreme climate events, increased production costs and rising medical expenses.
But with so much devastation and disruption to Honduras Fairtrade farmers’ livelihoods and communities, Jasper Coffee Founder Wells Trenfield knew something more had to be done.
“They work harder than anyone else in the whole coffee industry and we thought it was time to call on the people who consume Honduras coffee and see if they could support the farmers who grow their coffee,” says Wells.
Founded in 1989, Jasper Coffee is one of the longest standing Australian brands that buys Fairtrade coffee. One of the producer groups they trade with is the Honduras Copan Ruins Cooperative, properly known as the Agrarian Organic Producers Cooperative of Copan (COAPROCL). Located in the famous Mayan ruins, the cooperative consists of roughly 37 coffee farmers.
“We actually started buying their coffee in 2008,” says Wells. “In 2010, we sponsored the cooperative business manager, Wilson Colindres, to come to Melbourne, which was very scary for him.”
When Wells visited Honduras in 2012, the region was facing the La Royal fungus crisis, with the farmers also struggling with debts from a stolen crate of coffee beans from the previous year.
“We actually paid out their loan from the bank so they could then go back to the bank and re-start the program to rectify their crops and farm,” Wells says.
Fast forward to 2020 and Wells was on the front line again supporting Honduras farmers through COVID-19. The pandemic forced farmers inside for three weeks at a time. There were no harvests, no ports operating, and no incomes earned, all before the hurricanes even arrived.
“There’s been physical damage, from mudslides that have torn through houses and roads, and the rain and coldness which has come with [the hurricanes] have left these people with a lot of respiratory problems,” says Wells.
“This mud has also just ripped through the coffee trees. The torrential rain has saturated the roots of the trees and a lot of trees have just died off because they’ve been too wet. They were in the middle of harvest when this happened, and they couldn’t get their harvest out.”
Faced again with the issue of no income, Wells saw the farmers scramble as they tried to dry the coffee in this new wet environment. Immediately, he sent the cooperative about $13,000 to support their community and livelihoods.
“They put that money towards solar dryers so they could dry their coffee and try to rectify a little bit of harvest to sell,” says Wells.
Throughout this time, Wells stayed in constant communication with the cooperative and shortly after the initial funding, decided more drastic measures were needed.
Wells started a GoFundMe page for Honduras farmers, which has raised almost $18,000 to date, paying for farm equipment and basic human necessities like medicine, water supplies, rebuilding infrastructure, and vehicle repair.
“We realised in the scheme of things the money we sent was hardly going to touch their problems,” says Wells.
He also reached out to the Harvey Group and Fancy Films, creating media for their online platforms to raise awareness for the GoFundMe page.
Wilson Colindres, Business Manager of the COAPROCL Cooperative, explains that the farmers have continued to try new approaches despite the setbacks.
“The producers and everyone here does [their] best to overcome [the challenges]. We take on new opportunities, such as a beekeeping project, and we seek to improve the quality of the little coffee that we now harvest.”
For Wells, the tenacity of the farmers is just part of the reason he continues to help.
“We are connected with these people. This coffee is just a vehicle. [The farmers] work so hard, we’ve seen and hugged them, and we’ve really appreciated everything they do,” says Wells.
“We’ve sat down with them in the forest and watched them cry over their difficult situation not knowing how they were going to get through the rest of their lives. You see that, and you realise we’ve got to try support them, because if we don’t, nobody else is going to do it. We’re all in this together.”
Fairtrade has played a crucial role in fostering not only this relationship, but so many more across the coffee supply chain.
“Fairtrade has allowed us to build a relationship with Fairtrade growers because we can actually speak to people across the whole chain of coffee and help improve the lives of whole communities,” says Wells.
João Mattos, Commercial Manager of Coffee in the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fairtrade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC), says opening this direct communication solves a big sustainability barrier: the lack of information sharing.
“For example, farms in Latin America can grow coffee trees in the shade, which is more sustainable, but it affects productivity. If you can share this with the customers and explain this is why the cost will go up, then it is easier for them to support,” João says. “We need more consumer education about sustainable products and the market price needed to support good productivity and a liveable income wage.”
While the international price of coffee is slow to change, buying and selling of Fairtrade coffee at Fairtrade’s Minimum Price can fill this gap, changing the lives of these coffee farmers. When disaster strikes, the Fairtrade systems ties each link in the supply chain more closely together with coffee sellers like Wells willing to go the extra mile to support farmers they know and feel close to.
In addition to this, the Fairtrade Premium, which is an extra sum of money that Fairtrade farmers receive from each pound of coffee sold, provides extra resources that the community then uses to improve life for local residents.
“It empowers [the farmers] to make decisions on how they live. That means for the first time, as a group of people, they can collectively generate enough money and resources from the sale of their product to actually add value to their community and communal life,” says Wells.
“They have been able to harness the premiums of Fairtrade to improve their crops and their roads. In the last two years they’ve been able to develop micro lots from farmers, which has brought them into a whole new league in terms of income they can receive, and they’ve developed education and horticulture programs to improve their coffee farms.”
Buying Fairtrade coffee and supporting initiatives, such as the Honduras GoFundMe, is an opportunity to support sustainable practices and improve the living conditions of whole communities.
“The Fairtrade system we have today is closer to the system we need to be able to provide this living income. But we still need to push and improve the system all the time,” says João of CLAC, the Latin American Fairtrade producer network.
Wells adds the Fairtrade system is not just about the farmer, but their families and the community that they work within.
“This is really important because it holds them all together, it gives them a purpose, it gives them a sense of endeavour and empowerment,” he says. “This is an opportunity for us to give back to them.”
This article appears in the August 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.