On 25th April, my colleague Siv and I were on our way to Guatemala and Panama for the first time since March 2020. I got a glimpse of my old ticket home from the last origin trip from Panama, it showed the date 10th March 2020, which meant that I got home one day before lockdown.
Anyways, I really looked forward to this trip. First of all, the importance of meeting the producers is absolutely essential for our business in creating a good relationship and mutual understanding of where we are coming from as a company in terms of values and goals.
Also, we're working hard to create more transparency and have formalised that in a Supplier Code of Conduct document, which is being implemented through interviews with the producers. This is something that Siv, from our Green Group, is in charge of and therefore really nice that she was a part of this trip.
We came in late in the evening after missing a transit. The next morning started with two cuppings of all the Finca Vista Hermosa lots and of their variety garden. The good thing about visiting late in the harvest season is that all the coffees are ready to be cupped. All in all the coffee tasted excellent.
This year has been very challenging for the producers in Guatemala. Here in Huehuetenango, it seems that many farms have lost a lot of workers, both the seasonal pickers and the regular ones living in the area. The main reason has been illegal migration to the US. Overall poverty in Guatemala and the rising cost of living seem to be the main reasons. On a walk to El Bosque, the highest-situated coffee plot at Finca Vista Hermosa, we passed a beautiful ridge with thirteen houses. Edwin told us that there were only 2 men left of the 13 families living there, 11 had left for the US.
Many farms have struggled to be able to get their coffee picked - especially by selective sorting. These farms ended up with lots of cherries that haven't been fully ripe. This has required extensive sorting at the wet mill to reach the high quality and uniformity of ripe cherries.
The C-price has also risen a lot lately, a thing that should only be positive for the producers but unfortunately creates a very difficult situation for them. Furthermore, since the country is so poor, the high price at the market encourages the theft of cherries and beans, causing the producers to lose even more of their crops. This isn't a problem in countries like Panama since it's wealthier.
Finca Vista Hermosa’s main objective for the coming year is to secure enough permanent workers for taking care of the wet mill and the plants. At the moment they have 12 people but they ideally need 25. So the farm manager, Eliseo, is in charge of recruiting more people. Good housing and a salary that can prevent more people from going to the US are some of the most important means to achieve this.
We visited a dry mill named Coyote close to Guatemala City. Finca Vista Hermosa has been using Coyote for some years now. Edwin has found it to be a very reliable mill. The issue is often that most mills are very big and might struggle to process smaller lots and lot separation is also harder. Diego and his father have specialised in milling speciality.
Their huller was something I hadn't seen before. Instead of the normal drum that creates lots of friction and due to that a lot of heat which can cause a weight loss of 2 per cent and affect the cup quality.
We travelled with Edwin and Oscar to the farm. Oscar is a young inspiring man that has been with Finca Vista Hermosa and Onyx since 2018. One of his roles is to take care of visitors and create connections between buyers and farmers. It was a huge pleasure to spend time with him and his big heart and concern for people really shine through.
For the first time, we flew to Huehuetenango from Guatemala City, instead of the usual 6-8 hour drive by car. It was a great experience, even though the first 20 minutes were a wee bit scary, I thought of my family and contemplated the concept of God. The plane was quite small and the ride got really bumpy in the beginning. However, it was absolutely amazing to see Guatemala from a one-propeller plane, the mountains, canyons and volcanoes really got me in a profound state of awe and tranquillity. Thanks for that experience, Edwin!
We visited the local school just a small walk from the farm. It was really nice to see and get some insight into the situation in rural Guatemala. The school had just opened after two years of lockdown. It wasn't open at full capacity yet, they still had restrictions.
The lockdown has been much more serious there than here in Denmark, a picture that is the same comparing developing countries to wealthier ones all over the world. First of all, the lack of access to computers has made it impossible to continue school online, there hasn't been accessing to written material and the parents aren't equipped or have time to act as teachers. Sadly, the long-term consequences are yet to be felt.
On our way home from Huehuetenango, we stopped by a warehouse run by the Villatores family. It's a huge family that has grown coffee for three generations. Edwin has worked with them for many years. We visited them for cupping and Edwin had gifts for the family members as a token of gratitude for the good cooperation.
We met three of the youngest members, three cousins. It was really nice to see that the younger generation saw a future in growing coffee. They told us that this harvest had been a huge challenge for them as well, missing approx 60% of their usual workforce, also due to the migration to the US.
The cupping was wild, with loud dance music and some crazy funky stuff alongside beautiful washed coffees. After that we rushed to the airport, Edwin even had to call the pilot to let him know we might be running a little late.
As a surreal ending to our stay in Guatemala, we found a natural wine bar just a few meters from where we stayed. So we enjoyed a bottle of beautiful Austrian grapes together with Edwin and Oscar.
Thanks for some absolutely fantastic days!