Cooperatives rooted in their communities committed to coffee quality
A couple of coop members were travelling in a bus. After getting settled, Juana said to Pedrón “Life is something, right?” Pedrón reacted recalling that song; “and what is life?” “Our lives are like coffee” said Juana seriously. “What? How is that?”, Pedrón continued asking. “In the patio of the Mill, the more the coffee dries the more you see its defects.” Hahaha, Pedrón laughed and a moment later said, “Even if you only look for the defects, there are more good beans, like you my dear.” “Hahaha, such is life.” The couple of coop members are laughing and ruminating in the bus on their way back home: their coffee is similar to people´s lives.
On January 5, 2021 we 6 cooperatives met at the Dry Mill of Solidaridad. All the cooperatives take their coffee to this Mill, coffee from different ecologies, altitudes and varieties (see table 1). All are first tier cooperatives whose members come from the same community. Women make up 22.5%. of the members. These cooperatives receive credit from the Winds of Peace Foundation (WPF). Some have organic coffee, others conventional, and all are committed to improving the quality of their coffee. It is a cluster of peasant coffee.
|Table 1. Cooperatives that are selling 2020/21 coffee|
|Cooperatives||Year Founded||Male members||Female members||Total number of members||Coffee varieties||Altitude|
|Artesanos del Café (COARCA)||2016||11||2||13||Catimor, caturra||850-1200|
|13 Octubre||2019||32||21||53||Catimor, parai-nema, caturra, lempira, bourbon||800-1250|
|Guardianes del Bosque (GARBO)||2004||53||23||76||Catimor, catuaí, pacamara and marsellesa||900-1300|
|Solidaridad||1999||46||10||56||Catimor, mara-caturra, catuai, caturra and java||1100-1460|
|COASSAN||2006||45||11||56||Catimor, caturra, catuai, parainema and marsellesa||900-1350|
|Coosempoda||2005||77||10||87||Catimor, Caturra, parainema and Marsellesa||900-1350|
|Total||264||77||341||Catimor, catuai, Caturra, parai-nema, Marse-llesa, lempira, java and bourbon||800-1460|
|Source: Based on the 6 cooperatives|
Among those participating there were members and board members. Everyone arrived with the desire to see their coffee. They also brought concerns about the street prices for coffee, about the fact that in some places the coffee harvest is now ending, in others it is not. GARBO: “In Peñas Blancas the end of January will be the height of the harvest, in previous years the height of the harvest was the end of December. Is it climate change?”
2. Reception and classification of the coffee
We classify as A coffee, coffee that has from 0 to 5 defects. B is from 6 to 10. C is from 11-14.
On receiving the coffee, after weighing it, it is classified to define its imperfection rate. The bag is stuck with a sampling probe to get a sample of 100 grams. The beans which are hulled, broken, black, not ripe, affected by coffee bore…are identified. If there are 5 that are broken, that is 1%. The same with black ones…In the end these percentages are added up, and that is what is written in the receipt. They also note there if there are beans with pulp and if the coffee has light or severe mold.
In general, the coffee coming in is better than last cycle. Even though there are a lot of unripe (green) beans. The broken and hulled beans are more because of the calibration of the pulper.
Coassan is expressing a concern about the weighing: “With small volumes, less than 10 sacks of coffee, the scales here match the scales that we have, but when we send more than 15 sacks we feel that the scales here show a difference”
In 4 days coffee drops from 30 degrees of humidity to 16 degrees. They leave it one day shaded (piled up and covered with plastic). Then they rake the coffee on the patio, because there is less volume; in mills with greater volume of coffee in each patio, it can even get moldy. By covering it and raking it the drying of the beans is more even. At 13 degrees the coffee is moved to the warehouse. Weeks later in the hulling the coffee loses humidity through the heat of the huller.
If a lot of coffee goes onto the patio, the coffee at 18 degrees of humidity is picked up in sacks and taken to the warehouse, there it will continue drying and its quality will not be affected, while the wet or humid coffee is put on the patio.
Light or heavy mold is not a problem, the sun will remove it. The problem is when the mold is in the groove of the bean.
In this mill coffee is managed according to the request of the cooperative that owns the coffee. COASSAN asked the coffee to be managed by producer, and the 13th of Oct asked that it be managed in 3 lots; so that is how it is managed. In this way, if one lot is damaged, COASSAN informs the producer members that their coffee was damaged; the same with the 13th of October as it is managed by harvest collection site by zone. In the warehouse it is also managed by lots, having their different qualities in small lots is an opportunity for buyers.
Last cycle the coffee from December cupped at scores of between 79-80. Now they are cupping at between 80-83. This is a good sign.
- Coffee from Coassan scored 79-80, now 82-83. With rest it could reach 84.
- Coffee from 13 de octubre scored 79, now it is 81-82. With rest it could reach 83.
- Coffee from Garbo is 82-83, they have large beans. Very good!
There are no beans damaged by the coffee bore in this cycle.
Suggestions from the cupping:
- Dry coffee with some honey on it [mucilage], then sun dry it. “Because coffee is like meat, if you wash it too much you dry out all the blood.”
- Green [unripe] beans takes points away. If in the picking, they pick green, half ripe and ripe, the coffee quality is affected. Assign someone to pick out the green beans, this will improve the quality. Mature beans improve quality
5. Administration and commercialization
Financing and commercialization go hand in hand, this is moving the coffee to the mill. WPF supports us and the cooperatives respond to that trust.
There is money circulating in the communities, from high prices for coffee above the NY price. This is affecting the loyalty of the members of their cooperatives, because on becoming aware of those prices, they want to sell their coffee to the buyers. If a cooperative provides credit and provides technical support to a member, and that member sells their coffee to a buyer, this is disloyalty to their cooperative, this means that the cooperative is supporting the buyer.
- Harvest collectors are also appearing in the communities [not just the municipal capital, as previously], many times they are the former presidents of cooperatives themselves who are taking advantage of their contacts that the cooperative achieved during their period as presidents. These same people receive good prices from buyers through the cooperative itself, without the cooperative being able to apply its rules, because some buyers do not recognize what is happening in the cooperatives and condition even including so and so in order to buy coffee from the cooperative. Are we cooperatives sowing cooperativism properly? Are buyers helping the cooperatives?
- “Loyalty falls apart more when we do not have markets”
- “In bad times (low street prices) we unite and in good times (high street prices) we disperse”; “some change their buyers like changing their religion”.
- “We are financing the competition”
There is loyalty between Solidaridad and the cooperatives
- “We came from Bencafé [another mill], we compare yield and costs, and we are doing well here”
- “Here we get receipt by lots, with that we can tell the producer, “Your lot is damaged” or “your lot is excellent”
- “We are among small producers; if we get to be large one, let us not turn our backs on one another, the larger we are, the more humble we should be.”
- “Sustaining the Solidaridad mill is also important to us”
- “In my cooperative in assemblies we explain the treatment that they give us here, here it is producer to producer; we came from a Union, here we feel like we are at home.”
We also have triangulated loyalty with WPF
- “We will have a bean selector with a loan, all the coffee will be processed here”
- “there are buyers who already have a commitment with some cooperatives”
- “There is a buyer called Juan de Dios Castillo, he is offering $150/qq export coffee with a cupping score of 81 and above, giving $20,000 in advance, 3% a month, for 3 containers”.
So far cooperatives like COASSAN and GARBO are turning in a lot of coffee, compared to their volumes from last year. Nevertheless, the Solidaridad Mill has only received 20% of the coffee that it had projected to receive this cycle.
Buyers within the FairTrade framework are not buying coffee in Nicaragua in the way that they did in the past. Having the FairTrade seal, but not able to sell at the FairTrade price. Some want a combination: 2 containers at fair trade price and 2 containers at the street price, it does not work.
In this cycle those of us who do not have buyers, at least we want to be left “even”, that we don´t lose money.
The marketing of the cooperatives is weak, we have a low budget for this important action. It is important to invest in a webpage, social networks, sending samples, telling the story of the cooperatives.
Table 2 shows the volume collected, the situation of the imperfection rate and the cupping results.
|Table 2. Coffee quality collected up to Jan 4, 2021|
|Cooperatives||Volume collected as quintals of parchment coffee up to Jan 4, 2021||Imperfection rate||Cup score||Markets|
|Solidaridad||890.09||4-12%||SCAA 77-83-50||Cond sc, mamacoffee, thanksgiving coffee/etico, adix coffee, J % M family coffee|
|13 Octubre||591.06||4-12%||SCAA 60-82.50|
|Coassan 1||1163.06||4-14%||SCAA 60-82.50||GEPA|
|Coassan 3||77.6||5-12%||SCAA 81|
|From a projection of 21,177 qq. to be processed in the mill, by Jan 4, 17.44% had been collected
Source: Cooperativa Solidaridad
6. Outstanding elements of the meeting
The entire process was seen: reception, patio-drying, cupping and markets. The members were proud to see their coffee in the patio or the warehouse. Listening to each element, it was possible to connect the picking phase to the wet milling phase, for example, selecting the coffee beans so that it have higher quality.
Management by lot, if the cooperative requests it, gives it differential treatment, the Mill supports them in this.
Observation made about the weighing.
Recording the results of the cupping can be shared if the cooperative so requests.
The quality of the coffee of the 6 cooperatives in this cycle could be between 82-84. Good scores!
- Solidaridad is going to review the weighing and is going to test it with the coffee received. A lot of 20 sacks they are going to weigh together, and then they are going to weigh them by 10 sacks at a time, and thus test to see if there is a difference or not.
- It is important to increase the volume of coffee collected on the part of the 6 cooperatives. Listening to the members about why they are diverting their coffee, maybe conversing they can arrive at beneficial agreements; in these cases, let us show a certain amount of flexibility, at times “disloyalty” is due to mutual distrust. In the case of ex board members collecting coffee in the same communities, competing with their cooperatives, applying the rules of the cooperative is healthy. The month of January is key for buying coffee.
- Improving the quality, even though we are doing well. Select your coffee better
- Cupping is being done weekly; if the cooperative requests that the results of the cupping be sent to them, Solidaridad will send them to you.
- Each cooperative will think about how to work on the marketing, and in the month of February when we come back to meet again, we will discuss if there are ways of working on that in a coordinated way.
- Support one another as cooperatives. GARBO: “If someone needs coffee for their container, the coffee of GARBO is available.”
- Improve hygiene and prevention measures in the Solidaridad Mill: providing disinfectant for shoes and place for hand washing.
- Next meeting in February
We want to thank the Cooperativa Solidaridad and WPF for this relationship of trust which is being built between the cooperatives and for holding this meeting.
Each person returns to their homes, ruminating and laughing, like the couple in the bus as the story at the beginning of this text tells us.
 This text is a record of a meeting written by René Mendoza, adviser-accompanier of cooperatives and collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org On the part of the Solidaridad Cooperative, Jacqueline Sánchez explained the imperfection rate; Eloy, the drying patio; Jaime explained cupping; and Aleyda Blandón and Ottoniel Arguello talked about selling the coffee.