Coffee project: Visit to smallholder farmers in Honduras
A cup of coffee is a daily routine enjoyed by many. But have you ever thought about who grows the coffee that ends up in your cup and where it comes from?
The ALDI SOUTH Group has been sourcing Fairtrade-certified coffee from Honduras since 2014. Coffee is the most important export product from Honduras with over 100,000 families growing coffee and over one million people employed by the sector during harvest. Coffee farmers in Honduras face strong challenges resulting from a volatile political situation, high poverty rates, and fluctuation in price on the world market, and the growing effects of climate change.
Since 2016, ALDI SOUTH has funded a project initiated by Fairtrade to support coffee cooperatives in Honduras. The project aims to improve the business capacities of smallholder producers, increase the amount of sustainable coffee production and resilience to climate change, increase income diversification for farmers, and integrate women and young adults more strongly into development and decision-making processes in coffee cooperatives.
In November 2019, a manager from our Corporate Responsibility International Department had the opportunity to visit Honduras together with the Global Sourcing Buying Director for coffee, colleagues from ALDI’s coffee roastery New Coffee and representatives from Fairtrade Germany, Fairtrade’s Latin American and Honduran networks. The aims of the trip were to visit cooperatives to understand more about the challenges they face and hear first-hand from smallholder farmers about the project’s impact. The visit provided greater transparency of our coffee supply chain and helped our team understand exactly what goes into the products we offer to our customers.
Helping farmers to become more resilient
En route to the coffee farms, the many hours in a minibus navigating the winding, hilly roads gave us time to appreciate the impossibly green landscape of Honduras and to speak with the two advisors to the Honduran National Fairtrade Network, whose roles were funded by the project. One provides agricultural guidance to cooperatives, such as how to make compost and organic fertiliser. Another helps small producer organisations improve their organisational management through, for example, the implementation of budgets and internal manuals. A goal of the project is to increase area productivity (in existing plots instead of extending coffee production into new areas), which makes future production more sustainable, both for farmers and the environment.
The importance of Fairtrade certification and payment of the Fairtrade premium was highlighted by the farmers we spoke to, who were all working hard to maintain their certification and spoke highly of its impact. The premium itself provides much-needed additional income and the requirements of the Fairtrade standard ensure that farmers are maximising their yield and future-proofing their farms. In addition, farmers told us that being a member of a Fairtrade cooperative enables credibility and trust that makes it easier for them to access bank credit to invest in more efficient and sustainable equipment and tools.
The premium also enables investments of cooperatives in community projects. As an example, we visited a clinic supported by three Fairtrade certified coffee cooperatives to provide much-needed support to a population of 60,000, which would otherwise have to travel at least one hour at a minimum to reach the nearest hospital.
Improving quality and yield in the face of climate change
In the departments of Copán and La Paz, we visited a number of farms and the farmers were eager to show us their land and describe some of the ways they benefitted from the project. We heard how they exchange knowledge on good agricultural practices with other cooperatives through joint events. The uncertainty of the effects of climate change, such as increased temperatures and changing rainfall patterns, may make it more challenging to grow coffee in future, and this is a constant worry for smallholder farmers.
Making our way through the hundreds of trees, bursting with bright red coffee cherries, we learnt how the fungal disease “la roya” (coffee rust), caused by temperature changes and increased rainfall, has significantly decreased harvests. Although many of the trees now appeared healthy, the impact of the disease was still clear to see on some of the farms. Through guidance on techniques such as checking leaves, pruning to remove diseased plants, and improvement of soil, farmers were able to limit the damage caused.
Supporting female farmers and young workers
A key element of the project is to ensure that coffee cultivation is seen as an attractive proposition for female farmers and young workers. The project funds group workshops and trainings to equip young people with knowledge in agroecology and the ability to generate income from activities such as running composting facilities and selling compost to local farms.
There are far fewer female than male coffee farmers in Honduras, and women are less likely to have seats on management boards. Self-organised and financial independent female coffee traders are not automatically accepted. The project enables capacity building for women’s groups in coffee production and income diversification. This leads to a higher representation of women in cooperative decision-making bodies, and more young women are given positions of responsibility, e.g. accountants, agricultural advisors, and quality controllers.
When we visited the Aprolma Women’s Cooperative in the Marcala province, we were encouraged to hear that they do not see gender as a barrier to their success. They told us that their biggest problems are the same as those faced by male farmers, namely lack of access to bank credits and inconsistent coffee quality due to the effects of climate change.
In one of the many displays of kindness and generosity we experienced during the visit, one of the women invited us into her home where we met her family and heard more about the daily life of a coffee farmer. It is by no means easy but she felt the situation is improving and was grateful for the support of her fellow cooperative members and the training and information exchanges set up through the project.
Project evaluation and next steps
At the end of the visit, we participated in group discussions with the Honduran Fairtrade Network, project participants and local Fairtrade staff. We were shown the results of an independent evaluation, which considered the project a great success. It was encouraging to hear that the project was found to be highly relevant to the needs of the target group and to have achieved clear impacts, with good potential for many activities for long-term sustainability in the cooperatives. Participants told us that, as they continue to face pressure due to climate change and the current crisis with coffee prices, that they were thankful that the project enabled them to enhance the business capacities of their organisations and the sustainability of their farming practices,
The premium paid by customers who purchase Fairtrade products, as well as ALDI’s additional project funds, enable solutions to be found for the challenges, and ensure the long-term sustainability of small-holder coffee production in Honduras. We encourage customers to consider purchasing Fairtrade-certified coffee and ALDI intends to continue funding projects to support smallholder coffee farmers in Honduras. Through these efforts, farmers will become more resilient and prosperous so that a daily cup of coffee purchased from ALDI remains sustainable for all.
Project in numbers
22 smallholder producer organisations (SPOs) participated
4,656 direct beneficiaries (producer members of SPOs)
20,000 estimated indirect beneficiaries (family members and other dependents of producers)
83% of project cooperatives made a profit
68% have reduced the use of agrochemicals and are supporting new income streams