CAFE Livelihoods Program

Coop Coffees ally and Fair Trade supporter, Catholic Relief Services partnered in the “CAFE Livelihoods" program in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. The project entailed a series of technical and management training workshops over 4 years. Coop Coffees, along with social lender and ally Root Capital, facilitated several of these workshops.

The market for high quality, organic coffees continues to grow in North America. But due to lack of appropriate direct market connections, needed volumes and/or knowledge about quality requirements, many small-scale farmers are still left out of this market "boom".

The program was designed to support farmers with agricultural, quality control and administrative practices - taking the learning process from seed to final cup evaluation. Cooperative Coffees, along with our strategic financing ally Root Capital, have been invited as "external specialists" to collaborate with hands-on activities in our respective topics of expertise: understanding (err.. untangling) coffee markets in today's economy, improving quality and quality control practices, and financial management and planning, respectively.

The primary objectives of the program include: improving yields in the coffee fields and coffee quality in the final cup analysis; improving access to infrastructure; and improving overall management skills and financial planning with cooperative leadership. The challenges remain daunting and the objectives are ambitious... but at CoopCoffees we remain hopeful that our participation in this program can yield tangible, positive results for small-scale coffee farmers.

During our El Salvador “Quality tour” – a CoopCoffees delegation comprised of Mark Glenn of Conscious Coffees, Boulder, CO; Glenn Lathrop of Desert Sun Coffee Roasters, Durango, CO; TJ Semanchin of Kickapoo Coffee, Viroqua, WI; and Monika Firl of Cooperative Coffees – visited seven of the coffee farmer regions and held a collective quality cupping session with the farmers representatives from the 13 groups participating in the project.

“If you're prepared to buy from a private estate farm or private exporter, El Salvador seems to be filled with quality gems of all shapes and sizes,” says Mark Glenn of Conscious Coffees. “But within the framework of this project, we want to see what would it take for these small-scale producers to deliver the same level of quality and have access to be able to enjoy the same economical benefits?”

These experiences have broadened our collective understanding of the struggle small-scale coffee farmers must face on a daily basis. We heard the same story again and again in El Salvador: Without market and price stability, farmers are forced to sell their harvests however they can and that often means near their cost of production or even at a loss! For the cooperatives, that means a loss of potential product and that unstable pattern of available sales volumes wreaks havoc for the cooperative’s attempts to establish and maintain commercial partners. This in turn leads to a vicious cycle of abandoning production and quality improvements, which is of course detrimental to everyone along to production and marketing chain.