In 2018, Grow Ahead partnered with Impacto Cafe, an organization that works with 3,800 coffee producers from different regions of Chiapas and is committed to sustainable development, small-scale farmer capacity building and rural social enterprises, to raise $10,000 in micro-loans to support ten smallholder coffee producers diversify into organic honey by starting their own or growing their beekeeping business.
We got to interview Sady Valázquez, who works with Impacto Café, to talk about the recipients of the past rounds of loans. Sady Velázquez is a young professional agronomist that lives in Ángel Albino Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico.
He has experience in organic certification and Fair Trade issues and has been able to bring clarity to his approach for improvement and ongoing support to producer groups. Coming from a family of beekeepers, he devotes his work and life to beekeeping and supporting other beekeepers in Chiapas.
Question: What were the Grow Ahead loans used for?
Most of the producers have used the loans from Grow Ahead to purchase beekeeping materials. The producers are in areas where they have the qualities and characteristics for greathoney production but it is hard to get the resources and materials needed. There are producers who are very enthusiastic about beekeeping even though it is still not very common because some communities are not very open to diversifying their coffee farms and even think that beekeeping is bad. We are seeing a change in attitude because there are producers who themselves have had this notion in the past but have learned that you can combine coffee and honey production in really great ways. Now the biggest challenge is getting the resources to start beekeeping and to expand production so the micro-loans are a really important opportunity to get this support.
There are many difficulties that small-scale producers have to battle daily and when we can help farmers get the resources, technical assistance and opportunities for income diversification, they can improve their situation.
Question: How has your beekeeping business improved?
It is interesting because it is mainly young people who have been taking on new initiatives with beekeeping. Especially with more difficult activities that people aren’t accustomed to like loading, covering and moving the hives, young farmers are those who have the ability to adopt this new production.
Using the loans to get better equipment and more resources is something very important because after the coffee harvesting season there is a lot of time sensitive work that without, would destroy the honey production. This is why more young people, usually under 30, are taking on beekeeping because it is a lot of work and takes time to make a profitable business. Beekeeping is pretty hard in comparison to coffee. There are a lot of new things to learn, for example, the rainy season is difficult because it is so humid so the hives have to be at a suitable height and in the sunlight. It is these small things that make it so that only producers who will adopt the appropriate strategies to care for and maintain the hives can be successful.
Another difficulty is market access and ability to sell your honey at a good price. The way that they verify the quality of coffee they do as well with honey. Although it is a lot of work, beekeeping has some of the greatest impact because it supports income security for the family, conserves biodiversity, and supports flowering which is great for coffee growing.
Question: After starting beekeeping, have you noticed any difference in your coffee?
Well the beekeeping has many advantages because it is an activity that harmonizes very well with coffee growing. They are not in competition, it is actually the opposite. The bees help improve flowering of coffee plants which helps increase the production of coffee. Also, beekeeping is not limited to just honey production. You can make other products like medicine and some small-scale farmers are cultivating beehives and then selling one or two to other farmers. There are a lot of benefits to beekeeping but for coffee specifically it is increasing the flowering, increasing coffee production and the quality of the coffee as well. They really are systems that tie together perfectly.
Question: What is your plan to promote your beekeeping capacity?
Our plan is to really increase the technical capacity and knowledge around beekeeping. Coffee farmers are very educated about coffee, they know the strategies of how to plan, renew, and increase the coffee production. In the case of beekeeping it can be the same. If a producer starts with 10 hives and makes a goal that in 3 years they will grow to 40 they can do that. They will need certain resources like a breeding chamber, training and knowledge of how to make the cores, how to feed, how to get to change the wax in the right moment, and a good plan.
Right now, small-scale producers who are still just getting started are not organized. They are producing each one as it thinks fit, but for the purposes of getting greater market access and better prices we need to join together to increase the quantity and the quality of the honey. We see how powerful we are when we are united because we compare the cooperative to the hive. It works as such inside of the hive, we each perform activities, like the feeding of the bees, then we give the care necessary to flourish and create positive impacts like greater economic opportunities for producers.
Question: How do you think COVID-19 has affected Impacto Café as well as coffee production in beekeeping?
We are seeing a pretty big problem with the pandemic. There is still a strong sense that the producers still are not aware of the seriousness and are still going about their lives, shopping and going to the market like usual. We have now had a few positive cases and I believe that this has led to a greater awareness amongst producers.
Coffee production and the producers have definitely been affected as they have already raised the price of basic products here in Chiapas. There is concern, especially for producers that are not in cooperatives, of what will happen to the price of coffee. It is definitely complicated because the virus will continue to spread if producers do not take the precautionary measures. This will affect not only their health but the coffee production as well because most of the farm workers that they hire are from Guatemala. There will definitely be future repercussions from what we are seeing right now that can affect the 2020-2021 harvest.
Want to Get Involved?
As a continuation of our work with Impacto Cafe in supporting small-scale farmers looking to diverse income and combat climate change we are raising $10,000 for a Loan Fund for Beekeeping in Chiapas, Mexico. This will be a revolving loan fund that will initially support ten smallholder coffee producers diversify into organic honey by starting their own or growing their beekeeping business and as it is repaid, will be loaned to more and more farmers.