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A coffee farmer in Honduras stood next to a single, manual coffee dryer

The Impact of Coffee Institutes on Farmers in Honduras

As a coffee lover, I often find myself reminiscing about the days when I believed that the coffee institutes in my country were genuinely helping our farmers.

An Exploitative Reality

Initially, these institutes had a noble intention: to manage a portion of the coffee prices in order to improve infrastructure and conduct research for the betterment of our farmers. Unfortunately, the reality of living in Honduras, where sadly corruption and fraud are part of daily life, has transformed this well-intentioned idea into a mechanism for politicians to get rich.

The way these institutes operate is quite concerning. They take $13.25 for every 46 kg sack of coffee produced in the country. Out of this, $4.25 is used as a tax for salaries and other operational costs. The remaining $9 is allegedly for infrastructure improvements and support for coffee farmers, to be returned upon submitting official invoices at the end of the year. However, this couldn't be further from the truth.

Firstly, the financial burden of giving away $9 for every sack produced, without any return or even interest, is immense. This is particularly true for small and medium-sized farms, who may already be struggling to make ends meet, and the institutes don't provide the promised assistance. Farmers don't even receive a free annual soil sample to help improve their farming techniques. While we occasionally benefit from varietals and research conducted by the institutes, these benefits account for just a fraction of the total amount of money collected.

Coffee berries in the foreground, being picked by a Latina coffee farmer.

Neglected Needs: Drying Issues for Honduran Farmers

A typical Honduran farmer owns around 0.5 to 1.5 hectares of land, yielding an average of 15 bags of 60kg per hectare. Given a good year, when coffee prices hover around $1.8 per pound, this can translate into an annual income between $1,782 and $5,346. Between 2015 and 2018, Honduras' average coffee production was roughly 7.66 million bags, translating to an astounding $101.49 million annually for these institutions. Yet, despite such income, tangible improvements in the industry are scarce. The country grapples with serious drying issues, primarily due to these institutions advocating for increased production – which fattens their wallets – but overlooking the pressing need for improved drying technology.

The lack of adequate drying facilities has led to a decline in the quality of our coffee, as beans that are not properly dried can develop mold, off-flavors, or other undesirable characteristics. This, in turn, affects the reputation of our coffee on the global market, making it even more challenging for our farmers to succeed.

What's even more concerning is that these institutes collect money regardless of the price of coffee on the stock market. When coffee prices were at $103 per pound not long ago, they took 13.75% of the farmers' earnings. Although coffee prices have since improved, the cost of production has skyrocketed. For instance, fertilizer prices have increased by 200-300% in just a few months, making it even more difficult for farmers to maintain their operations and stay competitive.

A man, pocketing wads of $100 bills to the inside of his smart suit jacket

Advocating for Transparency and Consumer Awareness

The coffee world, which often claims to be more socially responsible, needs to be made aware of the corruption and misbehavior of these institutes, which affect small and medium-sized farmers, as well as honest, large-scale farmers. Politicians and powerful stakeholders are becoming richer at the expense of the farmers who form the backbone of the industry.

We must advocate for transparency and demand that these institutes allocate the funds they collect more effectively and responsibly. Only through collective action and a commitment to change can we create a more equitable system for all involved in the coffee industry.

We need to encourage consumer education and awareness about the true origins of their coffee. By doing so, we empower consumers to make more informed decisions and support ethical and sustainable practices. Coffee enthusiasts worldwide can contribute to this effort by learning about the supply chain and engaging in conversations that promote fair practices in the industry.

We must also work towards the creation of better policies and regulations that safeguard the rights and interests of coffee farmers. This involves pushing for Government oversight and independent audits to ensure that the funds collected by these institutes are being used for their intended purposes.

In addition, it is essential to support local initiatives that directly benefit our farmers. This may include investing in education, training, and resources to improve farming practices, or backing projects aimed at developing alternative income sources for farming communities. By investing in our farmers, we are not only enhancing the quality of their lives but also ensuring the long-term sustainability of our coffee industry.

As coffee enthusiasts and conscientious consumers, we all have a part to play in transforming the industry for the better. It is our shared responsibility to foster a future where coffee farmers are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and where their hard work is duly rewarded. 

Overcoming Systemic Challenges: Individuals Driving the Force for Positive Change

Amidst the criticism and disapproval, it's important to acknowledge that there are indeed individuals within these institutes who sincerely work towards the welfare of Honduran farmers. They strive daily to fulfill the original mission of these organizations, pushing back against the tide of corruption and misconduct to create positive change. Their dedication and commitment are laudable and provide a glimmer of hope within a challenging system.

However, the main issue lies within the system itself, which is steeped in practices that often don't serve our farmers' best interests. These well-intentioned individuals find themselves trapped within an institutional structure that hinders their ability to make a significant positive impact. The challenge, therefore, is to reform this system, to create an environment where the diligent efforts of these individuals can truly come to fruition, and genuinely improve the lives of our coffee farmers.

The plight of coffee farmers in the face of corrupt coffee institutes is a pressing issue that requires our attention and action. By raising awareness, advocating for transparency, and supporting initiatives that directly benefit our farmers, we can work together to create a more just and sustainable coffee industry. Let us not be bystanders in this fight, but active agents of change, striving for a brighter future for our coffee farmers and the industry as a whole.

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