Peru Day 2- July 22, 2015
Another invigorating farm visit day is yet again behind me. I am getting really nostalgic about these “last” moments, and I think it might be
sooner rather than later than I find myself back here in San Ignacio (much sooner if they decide to open the Jaen airport like is rumored!). Fernando, Deuder and I set off at the crack of dawn this morning to get to El Huabo for our 9 am meeting with the Nueva Generacion producers of Cenfrocafe that produce our Direct Trade Peru San Ignacio coffees. The trip was uneventful, especially so now that the whole road between Jaen and Ecuador is completed. There is now only 15 minutes of unpaved roads to get to El Huabo. The biggest notable moment of the morning was that San Ignacio now has traffic signals! That’s right, first Jaen, now San Ignacio, my how this place is changing. The drivers in San Ignacio still weren’t too convinced about the development, there was a lot of honking at cars waiting at red lights, and speeding around lines of traffic. Baby steps, I suppose
We showed up fashionably late to the meeting this morning in El Huabo, but right on time if you were counting Peru Time! The group of producers who showed up today was small, about 25 in total. I was surprised, actually, that even that number showed up given that we are right smack dab in the middle of harvest. Taking a whole day away from the farm when harvest is in full swing is really hard for producers, and I was grateful for the time that even this small group of farmers dedicated to our meeting today
. This is the 7th harvest that I have been present for with this group of farmers. If you had planted a coffee seedling on my first trip, you would be getting ready to chop it down this year to renovate.
Our meeting started off with typical pleasantries. Nueva Generacion Association now has 83 members in 4 neighboring communities. This
year’s trainings in the communities, led by sons and daughters of producers who are studying agronomy, focused on compost production and post-harvest processing quality. Nueva Generacion has had great quality since I have been around, and it is in great part because of the producer’s commitment to quality, processing and farm maintenance that keep the quality so consistent year after year. A few years ago, when coffee leaf rust was hitting northern Peru very hard, some producers were tempted to plant Catimor varietals, which are resistant to rust but suffer in cup quality compared to their varietal peers. Now, producers are seeing that Catimor varietals really do not do well at high altitudes and cool climates. The biggest disease that is hitting these plants is Rooster Eye (ojo de gallo) which is a fungus that attacks coffee plant leaves when it is too moist. Cenfrocafe is encouraging farmers who are encountering these problems to replant with Bourbon, Pache, and
Caturra varietals, varietals that have historically performed very well in this region but are susceptible to coffee leaf rust. The cooperative will provide seeds of these varietals for free to farmers, plus a s./7,000 credit (about $2,000) per hectare of land interest free for the next 3 years to get the new plants established and producing high quality coffees. This is a great incentive on part of the cooperative, and something that the farmers are very eager to take part in. I know that the introduction of Catimor varietals, especially at these high altitudes, was very concerning for roasters about the quality of coffees coming out of this region in the future, and I am really happy to see that Cenfrocafe is taking steps to
mitigate this risk. Planting higher quality varietals such as Caturras and Bourbons does leave the farmers open to risk of coffee leaf rust, but with vigilant farm practices and proper fertilization, much of this risk is reduced and makes the problem manageable on a yearly basis for the producers.
Climate conditions continue to be difficult this year in San Ignacio. Long rainy cold spells are making drying coffee very difficult. Producers who have not implemented solar tarp dryers are really suffering, as they cannot get their coffee to dry quickly enough and are losing big quality
points in the process. The cooperative is looking into investing in gas-drum dryers to be able to accept wet coffee and dry it uniformly at the warehouse in Jaen, something that may be necessary in the future for coffee drying in general if the climate condition continue to be very unpredictable during harvest time.
There was a little bit of unease from this group of farmers about the premiums paid out last year for quality differentials. Most farmers reported having received much less than they had in years past. This is something that I will dig into tomorrow in our financial audit with the cooperative. First, I am going to go farmer by farmer and create a liquidation report for each member that delivered coffee to our lot. Then, I am going to cross reference this with what the farmers reported receiving in their premiums. I suspect that there are two factors at play here. The first is that the cooperative did not separate out premium payments for the farmers this year showing what premium was earned for what lot of coffee. This has led to some confusion on behalf of the farmers as to which of their coffees qualified for the Direct Trade lots, and which were sold under different certification schemes, each of which carries its own
unique premium structure. Second is a new cooperative decision that was voted on by the board of directors and voting membership about how to distribute premiums that are received by some farmers and not others. From what I heard today, it seems like the cooperative voted to distribute a percentage of premiums paid to a general cooperative fund. I need to dig into this more tomorrow to see where there is basis in fact and what of this information is rumor that spread to San Ignacio. So tomorrow my day will be devoted to cupping through these lots and auditing the payment receipts.
After our meetings, we set off with a group of farmers to visit three different lots of coffee that have been doing really well with their quality
scores as well as well as demonstrating their leadership in good farm practices. A common theme on the farms that we visited was diversification of varietals (a good mix of Pache, Bourbon, Caturra, Mondo Novo, and Typica) having diversified varietals of coffee lessens the risk of disease spreading quickly from one plant to the other, and supports a healthier farming habitat. The weather was not cooperating (apparently I bring bad-weather karma to northern peru) so we slip-slided our way through some muddy
farms for a few hours before returning for lunch (classic yard bird stew).
I will be especially sad to not see some of these smiling faces each year as I come to the farm check ins, but I know that I am leaving the program in really good hands. David, you’re up! Of course no goodbye
in Peru is complete without a good ronpope (eggnog) toast, so we waited around for a while as the men furiously whipped up egg whites and prepared this sort-of-disgusting-kind-of-amazing cocktail to enjoy before our journey home. The ingredients are as follows: whipped stiff egg whites, egg yolks, sugar,algarrobina, vanilla, sugarcane moonshine. Mix and enjoy!
Until tomorrow, dear readers!