Project Origin gives back to farmers

Project Origin is working with coffee farmers in Nicaragua to promote social sustainability by asking producers “what can we do to help?”

Sasa Sestic, Founder of green bean trader Project Origin, has been working closely on a farm called El Árbol in, Dipilto, Nicaragua with co-owners Tim Willems and Claudia Lovo for more than three years to improve its coffee and the livelihood of the farming community. 

“When Sasa first visited the farm, he was appalled with its living conditions. Workers were sleeping in a concrete building on the floor and were up at 3am making really basic food with little nutritional value,” says Jordan Montgomery, Project Origin’s Media and Marketing Manager.

Determined to make an improvement, Sasa set some short- and long-term goals.

“Over the years, our initiative was to see if we could transform this commercial, low altitude farm that produces low quality coffee into a specialty farm,” Jordan says.

He says in the beginning locals questioned their motive. This made them realise the importance of involving the community in their plans.

“We needed to work together. That was the real lesson. We began asking them questions on what they needed and started having discussions on how we could meet their needs,” Jordan says.

Those needs were improved through education, lifestyle, and farming practices. Jordan says at the time, there was very little housing and morale was non-existent.

As such, Project Origin and the El Árbol team implemented an education system with a tutor coming into the farm each week to teach English and agriculture to the farmers, providing locals with an opportunity to learn and grow.   

“The farmers now have a safe place, education, and a community. They are more passionate and excited to get involved in coffee farming,” Jordan says. 

El Árbol has also employed all its workers full-time, with most living on the farm and have been able to create their own space and a safe sanctuary. 

Jordan says since Project Origin collaborated with the workers at El Árbol, through implementing a training and education program and funding improvements to living conditions, El Árbol has transformed into an agricultural hub that’s improved its coffee quality.

“During 2017’s harvests, the workers were not selectively picking, meaning many cherries were being processed unripe and were then sold as a lower quality product. Overall, the farm and the workers weren’t getting that much. It was far from sustainable. Fast forward to 2018, and now 90 to 95 per cent of all coffee cherries picked are perfectly ripe, entering in the specialty coffee range,” Jordan says. 

Thanks to Project Origin’s commitment to sustainable development on the El Árbol farm, and the farmers openness to new ideas, coffee has jumped seven cupping points in grading from 77 to 85.

Jordan hopes this will help break pre-conceptions about which countries can produce good specialty coffee and that it ignites more conversation about the ability of smaller origin productions. 

“Every step we make is going towards helping customers understand what they consume and where it’s coming from,” Jordan says.

“It’s saying, ‘look at this community that’s working so hard. They began making next to nothing and are now producing specialty coffee’.”

Upon reflection, Jordan talks with pride when discussing how far this project has come.

“Before, El Árbol was a run down, tired farm, with a concrete shed for lodging and an outdated wet mill,” Jordan says. “I’m just so proud to be part of a group who are focusing on people as much as the product.”

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