Coffee, honey, ecotourism and more!
From August 11 to 15, a small team from Coop Coffees and Peace Coffee traveled to the Central Amazon region of Peru to visit our producer partner CAC Pangoa. It had been awhile since Coop Coffees had last visited the coop and the time was ripe for another face-to-face! We hope that this visit as well as those that are sure to come in the future, will help strengthen the already vibrant relationship with Pangoa. The work that the coop has been doing over the last several years is proof of the power of Fair Trade but it is also a testimony of how indispensable long-term, beneficial relationships are for small-scale farmers.
The main objective of the visit was for Coop Coffees and roaster member Peace Coffee to deepen our partnership with Pangoa -- a producer partner with whom we share a strong and significant commercial relationship. In addition to that, we wanted to find out more about Pangoa’s market diversification plans...such as their roasted coffee project and a proposed ecotourism program. The four days were packed with farm visits, cupping sessions, and lots of interesting conversations and discussions. Since its FLO certification in 2003, Pangoa has been busy implementing various projects and programs with the premiums it receives. Pangoa certainly is one of the most exemplary coops when it comes to organizational management; their desire to serve their members as efficiently and effectively as possible is evident from the moment you step in their modest offices.
After a stunning road trip across the Andes – in which the car climbed from 100 feet above sea level in Lima to nearly 16,000 in just three short hours! – we settled into the sleepy little town of Pangoa where the coop’s central offices and warehouse are located. The first day we met with the president, manager, and several members of the Board of Directors of the coop. President Luís described the projects they fund with the FT premium: from providing funds for health services, education and general well-being to giving loans for tree renovation and processing plant improvement, Pangoa encourages the farmers and families to make the most out of their membership. Luís also gave us a brief historical background of the coop which began in the 1970s. Like many organizations in rural Peru, the period of the late 1980s – or the “terrorism” as they call it – was a rough time for Pangoa in which they lost many of their members due to massive urbanization. Today, the coop has 600 members and has worked hard to stabilize its coffee supply. They’ve looked to new sources of income including a roasted coffee project which they hope will begin to alter the instant-coffee-dominated domestic market by using high quality, exportable beans.
We took another full day to visit farmer-members. The first farmer we visited, Don César Kilka Rivera, has been a part of the coop for three years and has already been recognized for the quality of his crop. Pangoa carefully documents the outcome and scores of all of its farmers’ coffees so they can trace the patterns and determine the best practices for producing higher quality. During our visit, we witnessed a misconception that coop manager, Esperanza Dionisio says is widespread among its members: despite his commitment to the coop, César didn’t quite understand that the coffee the coop collected under rigorous standards was headed for a different market than the much lower-grade coffee he sold on the street to the “grillo” or middleman (also known as a “coyote”). And if they did end up in the same market as he fearfully suspected and as his non-member neighbors coax him to believe, what was the point of all the back-breaking work he put in to producing high quality, organic coffee? The folks from Peace Coffee were quick to assure him that the coffee he sold to the coop was NOT going to the same place as the low-grade stuff – Pangoa’s coffee was headed for a market that appreciated and paid for the higher quality beans. The visit with César and his family was evidence of how important it is for Fair Trade buyers to visit the producers when they can; the coop staff works hard to get the message out about the stability and value of Fair Trade and organics but to hear it from the buyer’s mouth adds a whole other level of credibility.
Recently, the coop has battled soaring street prices which are all too tempting for its members who, for the most part, are simply looking for the most beneficial way to sell their coffee. Despite the generally volatile trends of the local market – one of the reasons Fair Trade came to be – the price of coffee in the last two years has remained relatively high. In these circumstances, the coop has a hard time competing...which is evident in their drop in volume from 2007 to 2009. The competition with the local market has to go beyond price...and it does with Fair Trade. Coops like Pangoa do so much more for the farmers than any coyote could ever do for them; the key is getting the word out about the services – an ongoing struggle for the staff at Pangoa.
We finished off the trip with a stop at conservationist (and coop member) Isaac Cotachi’s reserve. Isaac has developed his five acres of land into one of the healthiest looking coffee farms and wildlife reserves we had ever seen! His charming wooden house which is surrounded by a beautiful forest of canopy trees, tropical plants, and nothing but the gentle sound of birds chirping (and the occasional swinging monkey!) inspired Peace Coffee director Lee Wallace to declare that she had found her paradise! If Pangoa was interested in getting an ecotourism program launched, we had found the perfect land to launch it from! After a couple recommendations on how to get the project started, we were encouraged by the enthusiasm Don Isaac and Pangoa’s staff showed for the idea. Hopefully, in January when our Coop Sol AGM is scheduled to take place, Pangoa will have this and a few other facilities available for a “test-run”!
From coffee production to honey cultivation to ecotourism, Pangoa and its members are venturing into greater market diversification. As a partner of theirs, we are excited to see the development of their various projects. We are also thankful for the opportunity and privilege to meet with their members and reinforce our appreciation for their work and our commitment to purchasing their coffee.