We got the chance to interview Alejandra Trujillo who works with impacto café. impacto café is an organization in Chiapas, Mexico that works various cooperatives and small-scale farmer organizations to help with capacity building, market access, cooperative organization and empowering producers and their organizations to be agents of positive change and transformation. We have teamed up with impacto café to crowdfund for a Loan Fund for Beekeeping in Chiapas, Mexico. We interviewed Alejandra to get an idea of how climate change is affecting small-scale coffee producers in Mexico and how diversification can offer solutions for communities and the planet.
Can you explain a little bit about the importance of diversification in coffee systems.
In coffee production, diversification indicates the introduction of new products so that coffee is not the only income for a producer. Diversification not only provides necessary income for producers but is also a strategy to protect crops from disease, pests, and other negative impacts of climate change. By monitoring how different crops are planted together, barriers are created to stop the spread of disease. Also, it promotes biodiversity as other crops generate by-products that complement the growth of others. All of this leads to a healthier ecosystem. Diversifying coffee production is crucial to successfully continue commercializing and the process of becoming more sustainable.
Why diversify with honeybees?
Mexico is one of the top three honey producing and exporting countries in the world after China and the United States, and its quality is internationally recognized. Beekeeping generates income for families, compliments agriculture well and increases the capacity to recover the environment. In addition, beekeeping does not require a considerable investment of time and can serve as a major support for coffee producers affected by coffee rust and other production problems. In economic terms, honey prices are more stable than coffee prices and beekeeping is a great economic opportunity for women producers.
Bees are highly effective pollinating agents and the reproduction of various plants has to do with the existence of these valuable insects. The flowers of coffee plants produce a high quality sweet nectar, and bees contribute to and improve the production of coffee farms, as well as the flavor profile of the crop. Finally, honey is a rich source of nutrition, especially for families in rural areas, and contributes to food security.
What effects to climate change have on coffee producers and the need to diversify?
Climate change is one of the factors that will affect the world’s coffee production the most, with small producers being the most vulnerable group. “The increase in temperature causes the increase in the ripening of the bean, causing a loss of quality” (Catunambù, 2019).
The high temperature flowering and water scarcity are key points to promote the emergence of pests and diseases. According to the Climate Institute, “if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced, the world wide level of coffee production will be reduced by 50% and in 2080 the coffee plant will likely be extinct” (Maldonado, 2016). The families of Chiapas coffee producers are economically dependent on coffee in order to survive so when they are involved in these problems they begin to diversify to other products that can provide them with economic income. When farmers can no longer feed their families some decide to look for other sources of employment or migrate to different states or countries, especially the United States.
What are some of the greatest obstacles to diversification for small coffee producers?
One of the obstacles to coffee diversification is labor shortages in some families. In the case of our coffee producers they have faced the lack of certain tools to maintain their beehives, the lack of training and technical assistance, as well as the economic income to invest in and carry out honey production so that their business is profitable. Many producers have not found a good market that allows them to sell their products at a fair price, so some are forced to sell to coyotes and intermediaries at a low price, in addition to not being able to develop their products well to achieve an increase of sales, aimed at national markets or perhaps international.
What are some of the difficulties in selling honey in domestic and international markets?
One of the main difficulties to selling honey in the domestic and international markets is that it must pass the phytosanitary standards for commercialization and have the right packaging in terms of quality and safety. As well as support for producers to create their trademark and registration. All of these tests and standards cost a lot of money. In addition, it is necessary to do a market study to know the supply and demand of said product. At the commercialization stage the product goes through several intermediaries and each of them incorporates some value for various reasons, the above leads to establishing prices that are sometimes not as competitive. In addition, there are not enough buyers so large portions of honey have not gone to the market. We are combatting other farms who use GMOs and pesticides which have affected bee pollination. There is also a need for assistance to develop a business models, which allow farmers to position themselves in the market with their product.
What do you hope for from brands, consumers, and international buyers to support small scale farmers in Mexico?
In the Mexican production sector, we hope that different companies can understand that in Mexico there are thousands of producers who live solely and exclusively on their products. We need to raise awareness of the importance of continuing to support small-scale producers in issues like food security and sovereignty and economic support, so that our producers will stop migrating. We hope that the implementation of innovation projects will spark the interest of rural youth who are disinterested in working in the field as the average age of farmers is 55 years old. We hope that our agricultural products will be important and advertised in the market, as well as the facilitation of the creation and promotion by brands so that consumers are aware and informed of how products are supporting small-scale farmers in Mexico. Not only because of the thousands of health benefits but also their cultural and ancestral importance.
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Alejandra Trujillo is in charge of Development and Fundraising for impacto café. Alejandra holds a Bachelor of Sustainable Development and is committed to the environment and the management of productive projects in rural communities. She has developed projects in the field of sustainable tourism, with social responsibility and has conducted fieldwork, research, education and rural development in various governmental and private institutions for the past seven years.