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Honduran Farmers Find Success Through Quality Coffee and Cocoa

High in the mountains of western Honduras, the 25 coffee farming families of the Flor del Pino cooperative are staging a quiet revolution.

Sons and daughters of landless farm workers, these producers gained ownership of land in the village of Gualtaya through 1970s agrarian reforms. Their plots have the combination of altitude and shade needed to produce some of the country’s best coffee. But for years, these farmers sold their coffee through local buyers at low prices. Vulnerable to price swings and lacking business knowledge, the families earned little income from their coffee trees.

In 2007, the farmers of Flor del Pino began working with TechnoServe to develop their practices in the field and in the market. Our advisors helped the cooperative improve the quality of their coffee and connect with German and English buyers, leading to more than $360,000 in direct export sales since 2008.

The higher incomes have helped these families improve their nutrition, their homes, their health and their education. And the cooperative has made a difference across its close-knit community by helping bring potable water and electricity.

“Thanks to TechnoServe, we have a business vision,” said Rodolfo Deras Maldonado, president of Flor del Pino’s board of directors. “We have international buyers. We are working to improve the quality of our coffee and have better incomes.”

The Flor del Pino members are among the families who have benefited from a TechnoServe initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress Program, that aimed  to improve the competitiveness of both the coffee and cocoa industries. During the four-year program, TechnoServe worked directly with 25 beneficiary  groups that generated nearly $15 million in sales and bought products from more than 2,200 farming families. But the program created an even wider impact across both industries as TechnoServe and its partners demonstrated the benefits of targeting the specialty coffee and fine cocoa markets.

Coffee is Honduras’s most important crop, accounting for more than a third of the country’s agricultural output. Much of its production is excellent high altitude coffee – ideal for the specialty market – but Honduras has always sold its coffee as a commodity, with no price premium for its quality. TechnoServe promoted a strategic plan for the industry that focused on improving producers’  skills and building the infrastructure needed to sell coffee to specialty markets.

TechnoServe advisors trained farmers in agronomic topics such as irrigation, fertilization, pest control and crop management. At the same time, we facilitated the design and financing of processing stations that allowed farmer groups to sell their coffee at a better price. TechnoServe also helped clients develop a business plan, learn essential business skills and improve their marketing capabilities.

With the USDA’s support, TechnoServe and our local partners helped spread the improvements to the broader industry. The national coffee association, IHCAFE, now emphasizes specialty coffee and improved post harvest handling. TechnoServe partnered with the Jicatuyo Foundation in the city of Santa Rosa de Copán to build a cupping laboratory, allowing small-scale producers across the region to assess the quality of their coffee before negotiating with buyers. TechnoServe has shared our learnings widely within the industry, and our clients have set an example for other producers in the region.“Other farmers in the area say that they admire our cooperative because we are improving our lives, and we are working not only for our families but for the community, too,” said Flor del Pino member Juan Deras. “We have no formal education, but we want our children and our grandchildren to have an education and a better future.”

An Industry Reborn

In cocoa, the USDA program has helped revitalize the sector. Although Honduras has produced high-quality cocoa for centuries, it has always been sold to commodity markets. The combination of a devastating hurricane, disease and low commodity prices nearly wiped out the Honduran cocoa industry in the early 2000s.

TechnoServe developed a strategy targeting the fast-growing fine cocoa market that was widely endorsed across the industry. Our advisors identified promising native plant varieties and trained farmers in grafting techniques to reproduce the genetic material in new trees. The program is supporting the planting of more than 2,500 acres of fine cocoa, and other initiatives aim to plant more than 7,400 acres of the local varieties identified with USDA’s support.

TechnoServe showed producers how to ferment and dry their beans to ensure quality, and we partnered with the Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation to build a cocoa quality control laboratory – the first of its kind in Central America. Our advisors enlisted the help of industry experts to develop a marketing strategy and facilitate initial sales of fine cocoa. Gourmet chocolate makers have shown significant interest in Honduran cocoa beans.

The new plantations are also creating environmental benefits by replenishing deforested areas. Using the knowledge and methodologies developed through the USDA program, TechnoServe and local partners Fundación Merendón, the San Pedro Municipal Water Division and Aguas de San Pedro are helping farmers in protected areas of the Merendón mountain range to improve their livelihoods and protect degraded hillsides by planting cocoa and other trees.

The beneficiaries include the smallholder farmers of CAPROCAFIM, a 60-member cooperative spread across 14 mountain communities. TechnoServe has helped these farmers cultivate new varieties and revive existing trees. CAPROCAFIM has planted more than 120 acres of cocoa and raised nearly $34,000 to build a nursery and plant new trees.

“TechnoServe did not come to our area alone,” said Victoriano Garcia, president of CAPROCAFIM’s board of directors. “They created an alliance and gave us more opportunities to sell our products.”