Ariel has only worked at CECOCAFEN for eight months.  Since he began, he has been meeting with each cooperative individually to evaluate and improve their managerial systems and distribution of technical resources to members.

Ariel has only worked at CECOCAFEN for eight months. Since he began, he has been meeting with each cooperative individually to evaluate and improve their managerial systems and distribution of technical resources to members.

The following day we visited another Union of Cooperatives, CECOCAFEN, and farmer Byron Corales Martinez.
CECOCAFEN works with nine cooperatives, which collectively have over 2000 individual producers. Nicolas and Mickey signed contracts to buy more organic coffee, and Nestor went over the production details with Ariel, their director of technical assistance.  CECOCAFEN has also worked with several environmental projects and supported the formation of a women’s saving group, which provides a possible infrastructure to channel the funds to recognize the unpaid work of women.  One of the specific difficulties that the farmers are facing right now is that many of the coffee plants are over 25 years old, the age at which production begins to decrease.  However, renovating their plantations means pulling the producing plants out and planting ones which will not produce for three years, and the farmers cannot afford to loose those years of production right now.  Because the payback for renovating is over such a long time span, there is virtually no credit available to farmers for this specific activity.  Partially for that reason, CECOCAFEN has supported farm diversification, linking their coop members to groups supporting other agricultural crops so they aren’t solely relying on coffee income.The Cooperativa Solidaridad also has a nice little cupping lab.

The Cooperativa Solidaridad also has a nice little cupping lab.

After CECOCAFEN we briefly stopped at Cooperative Solidaridad, a small cooperative on the road back toward Jinotega, and then headed out to visit the farm of Byron Corales Martinez, an organic farmer who was an original member of the cooperative but now sells independant of any group or certification.

Byron and Mickey (right).  With my help translating they got along fantastically.  Mickey's experience with organic farming in Vancouver and his views on fair trade from the perspective of a coffee roaster resonated with the direction Byron has taken his farm.  A business - and friendship - success.

Byron and Mickey (right). With my help translating they got along fantastically. Mickey's experience with organic farming in Vancouver and his views on fair trade from the perspective of a coffee roaster resonated with the direction Byron has taken his farm. A business - and friendship - success.

Don Byron is an entrepreneur.  It was immediately clear that he is a strong, passionate guy.  He’s pulled out of fair trade certification because he said all they were concerned about was money, and his concept of fair trade was alot more inclusive.  He said before he entered Fair Trade, he had used $4,000 from profits from his coffee business to start a school in the community, but the high fees he paid to be certified didn’t allow him to continue contributing.  He also is working with a large community initiated conservation project to protect over 1,000 hectares of forest which contain sources of water that benefit three municipalities and a hydroelectric plant.  Fair Trade, he says, didn’t support any of the environmental standards that he considers essential for a true high quality product. So now he sells directly to contacts he’s made personally – kind of like an international coffee CSA type business model.  The buyers have to come to his farm, where they see his cultivation methods and the environmental and social projects he contributes to. He is selling to three different buyers on the west coast of the US.

The drought has provoked some strange coffee growth.  This plant has red cherries, green cherries, and flowers at the same time, which Byron said is extremely strange.

The drought has provoked some strange coffee growth. This plant has red cherries, green cherries, and flowers at the same time, which Byron said is extremely strange.

At the farm, we got a tour and a well-rehearsed presentation.  It started with Byron asking us, “Do you know where the flavor of coffee comes from?”  The answer, it turns out, is the soil.  Byrons soil is carefully managed with biofermento, a homemade liquid fertilizer that promotes the action of microorganisms, mulch to preserve humidity, and lots of cow manure.  He’s worked out all the calculations.  “One cow gives me about 30 lbs. of manure a day.  That’s enough to fertilize 7 coffee plants.  From those 7 plants I’ll get about 60 lbs of beans which will make about 600 cups of coffee.  At $1.50 a cup in your coffee shop, it means that my 30 lbs. of cow manure is worth…$900!”  Byrons cultivation methods are strongly rooted in biodynamics.  He plants and prunes according to moon phases, and focuses alot of his attention of soil structure, organic fertilization, and remineralization with rock powder.  He feeds his cattle a mixture of 17 different plants, to ensure a rich mineral content in the manure.  He farms seven different varieties of coffee on 28 hectares, including a variety called Marracatura which has won first prize at an international coffee convention.

Byron introduced us to a class of young students learning English at a school bordering the farm, a project that he set up with a friend of his who was recently deported from the U.S. and is using his acquired English to teach the students.  They treated us to a performance of some songs they have been learning.

Byron introduced us to a class of young students learning English at a school bordering the farm, a project that he set up with a friend of his who was recently deported from the U.S. and is using his acquired English to teach the students. They treated us to a performance of some songs they have been learning.

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