Creating Coffee Livelihoods: On the Family Farm and Beyond

As the Sustainable Agricultural Improvement (MAS) project comes to a close in Honduras, we take a look at how the project helped one coffee farming family to build a strong farming business and promising career opportunities throughout the value chain.

After 35 years of cultivating coffee, the Meléndez family partnered with the MAS project to increase their productivity and branch into new opportunities in the coffee value chain.

For Denia Meléndez and her younger brother José, coffee farming is a family affair. Their parents, Will and Isabel, have been growing coffee in the lush highlands of Yoro, Honduras, for 35 years, cultivating their vision for a sustainable, multi-generational family farm. “I didn’t want the kids to leave the farm. I wanted us to be a united family,” says Will, who gave each of the five grown children his or her own land title.

But that dream was threatened in 2013 by an epidemic of roya fungus, which ravaged half of the Meléndez’s coffee trees. Seeking to fortify their future through better coffee earnings, the family joined TechnoServe’s Sustainable Agricultural Improvement (MAS) project to improve their farming practices and link to new markets.

In addition to growing coffee, José  Meléndez has joined MAS staff as community trainer.

Once 26-year-old José started learning techniques such as pruning and proper fertilization – and saw the positive effect on his coffee trees’ health and productivity – he pursued a new opportunity: training others. José joined the project’s staff as a community trainer, responsible for sharing these techniques with 190 farmers in his region using TechnoServe’s adult learning methodology. The part-time position allows him to better provide for his wife and their 3-year-old daughter by supplementing his coffee income and carving out a promising career in agronomy training.

Denia, meanwhile, wanted to expand her activities in the coffee sector by becoming a cupper – a specialized coffee taster who assesses the attributes and quality of bean samples. The MAS project presented an opportunity for the 27-year-old to develop this passion through ESCOBCAFE, a school that trains predominantly young female coffee cuppers, helping to integrate the country’s value chain. After completing the program, Denia secured a competitive apprenticeship cupping for a major coffee exporter.

After training as a cupper, Denia  Meléndez has secured a competitive apprenticeship cupping for a major coffee exporter.

In the three years since joining the USDA-funded MAS project, the Meléndez family’s income has grown by 30 percent. All seven farmers in the family are producing higher-quality coffee and getting a better price from selling directly to an exporter rather than an intermediary. But for young Denia and José, the project has opened up new opportunities in the coffee value chain, allowing them to stay close to the family while expanding their career options. They’ve even started roasting their own pepper-infused coffee and selling it at local markets. Customer demand has been high, and Denia hopes to someday start a full-scale roasting business.

In five years, MAS benefitted more than 26,000 small-scale coffee and bean farmers. These producers have increased their revenues by 64 percent and 54 percent, respectively, by implementing best agricultural practices to increase yields, by accessing over $18 million in credit to buy quality imputs and improve their farms, and by signing new commercial agreements that will provide them with sustainable, prosperous livelihoods in Honduras’s coffee and bean sectors.

Learn more about the MAS program.