Since the early 1990s, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) has worked in partnership with Honduran NGOs, ecumenical alliances, coffee and cocoa producers, and other members of these supply chains to improve the lifestyle and production of farming communities. Their activities in the region include improving agricultural systems, promoting gender equality, ensuring food security, and responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.
To learn more about LWR’s activities in Honduras, how the coffee industry has changed over the last years, and the role of younger generations, we spoke with Ralph Merriam, LWR’s Regional Representative for Northern Triangle II.
1. LUTHERAN WORLD RELIEF PIONEERED THE LWR FARMERS MARKET COFFEE PROGRAM IN HONDURAS. WHAT IS IT AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
Lutheran World Relief (LWR) created Farmers Market Coffee to provide Lutheran churches and parishioners with high-quality roasted coffee, grown by farmers who have worked with LWR.
As this program expands, the goal is to more closely link coffee consumers with communities where LWR has worked, in order to provide farmers with the tools they need to obtain a living income.
2. AS AN NGO IN HONDURAS, WHAT WERE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES YOU FACED IN 2020? HOW DID YOU ADAPT TO THEM?
Our programs in Honduras in support of small-scale coffee farmers center on providing training to young coffee growers (mostly the sons and daughters of coffee farmers) so that they have the skills they need to find new ways of earning a decent and sustainable living from coffee, both on and off-farm.
We do this by training them to not only improve the yields of their farms and the quality of their beans (e.g., through improved processing), but also through training in agribusiness practices, including co-operative management, the maintenance of coffee processing machinery, and other areas.
The biggest challenge was adapting to Covid-19 restrictions on movement, as the program was structured around several modules conducted at the training center. To accommodate this limitation, the training modules were adapted to virtual platforms.
However, not all project participants had good connectivity or adequate devices to receive the training; furthermore, some modules required hands-on learning and could not be given online. To adapt to this, the project training timeline had to be continually adjusted according to the changing restrictions on movement and the Covid-19 risk levels associated with the different regions of western Honduras where the participants lived.
3. HOW DOES LWR PROVIDE VALUE FOR BOTH PRODUCERS AND BUYERS?
LWR adds value by:
- Helping producers grow higher-quality beans
- Supporting producers to obtain and maintain various certifications
- Helping women and the younger generations become more involved in co-op management and governance
- Connecting producers more directly with international buyers
- Supporting the development of business plans and acquiring funding to implement them
- Developing and providing online/mobile platforms that provide a wide array of technical and commercial resources
4. HOW DOES LWR SUPPORT PRODUCERS? WHAT KIND OF TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE DOES THE ORGANIZATION PROVIDE?
LWR supports producers in a range of different ways:
- Technical assistance at farm level to improve farm productivity (e.g. agroforestry systems, crop diversification, and climate-smart agriculture).
- Technical assistance to improve wet and dry processing, and support for improved processing infrastructure (e.g. solar dryers, storage facilities).
- Training and technical assistance to improve agro-enterprise/co-op management:
- Improved governance and gender inclusion at board and management levels
- Improved accountability and transparency (e.g. better accounting systems, inventory control, traceability, and real-time reporting)
- Strategic planning
- Business plan development
- Improved communication among co-op members
- Training and support for greater gender inclusion at all levels:
- Training on gender inclusion, including working with men on redefining masculinity
- Promoting municipal plans to support female entrepreneurship.
- Training and support to increase direct marketing/sales capacity
- Training on direct engagement with international buyers
- Support to participate in international coffee forums (e.g. SCA)
- Technology for Development (T4D): the development of a mobile phone app that enables small-scale coffee farmers to access a wide array of training, technical and commercial links resources. The app IHCAFE-móvil app has been developed in partnership with IHCAFE. This tool can support all of the above areas of assistance. It is particularly attractive for the younger generations.
5. LWR HAS BEEN WORKING IN HONDURAS SINCE THE EARLY 1990S. SINCE THEN, WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU HAVE SEEN?
I think one of the biggest shifts has been how the younger generation views coffee as a sustainable livelihood. Back in the 1990s, coffee in Honduras enjoyed somewhat of a boom and coffee growers were thriving in general.
However, since then, prices have dropped significantly and younger generations are no longer as interested in following in their parents’ footsteps, as they have seen their struggles over the last few years. This has resulted in the aging of the small-scale coffee farmer in Honduras (i.e. the average age of a small-scale coffee producer has been steadily increasing). Migration is now viewed by many as a better option than staying on the farm.
On a positive note, we have also seen an increase in the involvement of women as coffee growers and entrepreneurs in general. They are now more involved in the governance structures and decision-making processes in coffee co-ops. There is still a long road to travel before there is genuine equality with men, but much has been accomplished.
We have also seen an increase in the knowledge and capacity of small-scale coffee farmer co-ops to engage directly with international buyers, thus bypassing the complex structure of intermediaries.
In recent years, there has also been an increase in the interest and capacity to produce high-quality coffee beans for the gourmet coffee market.
Credits: Lutheran World Relief (LWR)