Fairtrade coffee farmers in Guatemala recently saw their coffee rank among the best in a crowded field of competitors in the Guatemala 2016 Cup of Excellence Competition.
The Alliance for Coffee Excellence partners with national coffee boards in producing countries to host competitions and identify the world's best coffees and coffee growers. The auctions that follow attract bidders from around the globe. Prices in this year’s auction of Guatemalan coffees ranged from $7.10 per pound up to $53.10 (for reference, the current market price for coffee is at $1.44).
El Vergel, a coffee farm in Guatemala owned by Fairtrade certified co-op FECCEG, placed eighth in this year’s competition. The coffee – with notes of vanilla, raisin and peach, and sweet, green apple flavors – sold for $12.60 per pound to a roaster in Saudi Arabia.
“It was nerve-wracking watching the auction and waiting for bids to come in,” said Juan Francisco, General Manager of FECCEG. “You get three minutes and if no one bids, it’s closed down. There were times when we had 20 seconds left on the clock and suddenly a bid came through.”
Coffee in the Clouds
El Vergel comprises about 121 acres on the Western slope of the Sierra Madre mountain range in the department of San Marcos. Humid ocean air blankets the farm, which sits at an elevation between 4,000 and 5,000 feet near a Quetzal reserve – home to Guatemala’s national bird. Technical advisors from FECCEG manage El Vergel to experiment with new techniques.
“While individual farmers have to control for costs, we use this plot to test and improve our practices so then we can take what we learn and share it with our farmer members,” said Juan Francisco. “Thanks to our focus on quality in there and the dedication to organic practices, we’ve been able to produce some very good coffee.”
FECCEG has been managing the farm since 2012 and in 2015 coffee from El Vergel placed 21st in the competition fetching $10.60 per pound. This year they improved their standing to place eighth in the competition.
Not just quality, but stability
While the recognition afforded by competing in the Cup of Excellence is beneficial to the farmers of FECCEG, Juan Francisco stresses that their focus is on providing their farmer members with more stable income from their coffee.
“There is a lot of risk and expectation when you focus only on quality. Changes in weather, lower-than-expected harvests or customers not coming through can affect sales. Buyers often put pressure on producers to deliver high-quality microlots, but often times it’s not worth the risk.”
FECCEG balances a focus on quality with the needs of their farmer members. All coffee from the co-op is certified Fairtrade and organic, a combination that helps them provide greater stability for members.
“We promote organic production for all of our member co-ops. A well-fed plant with nutrient-rich soil is stronger than those using chemical fertilizer or pesticides,” Juan Francisco said.
“We’re fortunate to sell 100 percent of our coffee on Fairtrade terms. I believe that with these two certifications – and if you pay attention to consistent quality – customers often come looking for you.”
The co-op is currently working on a proposal to build a training center at El Vergel so that they can host famers from member cooperatives to share the techniques that have helped them create one of the best coffees in Guatemala.
In addition, they are diversifying the crops they grow there to include patchouli bushes, which can help control weeds and provide soil cover to help the coffee plants, and moringa trees for shade, a new superfood gaining in popularity.
While it may be difficult to get your hands on this year’s crop from El Vergel, you can still purchase coffee from the award-winning 2015 harvest via Kishé Foods, a US coffee company owned by the farmers of FECCEG and a Fairtrade America commercial partner.