Approaching the small villages of Santa María Yucuhiti municipality by car, a one-lane dirt road dips and curves around a landscape of trees with moss beards. At 5,600 feet, the region is a place ripe for coffee production—one of the principal productive activities of the people who live here. The municipality is home to Mixteca Specialty Coffee (or Café maa va’a nuu Ñuu Savi, in the local Mixtec language), a project supported by Vibrant Village Foundation.
Coffee producers check their cupping scores.
Sunday, February 22nd marked the Second Annual Mixteca Alta Specialty Coffee Competition in the village of Reyes Llano Grande. This village of approximately 300 people is today a hive of activity, with over 100 attendees, three times the attendance last year. Producers, buyers, coffee aficionados and the press arrive from neighboring villages and cities as far as Oaxaca, over 6 hours’ drive, to participate in the event.
The gathering marks a second year of tremendous work for the Specialty Coffee project, which, under the guidance of Director Dr. Karen Rasmussen, is benefitting local coffee producers in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Southern México. The Mixteca Specialty Coffee Project offers training in the cultivation, harvest and processing of specialty coffee to producers from marginalized villages where indigenous families live and work. The goal of the project is to increase the quality and quantity of coffee to increase prices, sales and overall household income for growers and their families.
Coffee buyers tasting local coffee.
While Mexico hosts the Cup of Excellence, an international specialty coffee competition, a regional event such as this one had never been held in Mexico in such remote, indigenous communities before the Specialty Coffee Project arrived.
Clemente Santiago Paz, an agricultural engineer and coffee production consultant explained, “The minimum volume requirements, as well as registration costs for national and state coffee competitions are a real obstacle for small producers, like the ones in this region.” This regional competition has a lower minimum coffee requirement for a coffee producer — 40 kilos in comparison to 172.5 kilos and is held locally, which makes it more feasible for producers to attend.
Coffee growers discuss the results of the competition.
In addition to the increased accessibility for small producers, the Mixteca Alta Competition affords producers and buyers an opportunity for direct exchange. Producers have the chance to promote their coffee with the public, and have conversations with buyers. Carlos, a buyer from Oaxaca commented, “A coffee’s origin is really important in the industry. This project as a whole, and especially this event, has created a stronger and friendlier relationship between buyers and producers, as well as between producers in the region.”
A coffee grower and buyer signing their first sales contract.
That direct contact adds up to higher prices for quality coffee, and relationships that ensure producers have access to a valuable market for the long-term. Knowing the story behind a kilo of coffee helps buyers sell to their clients and promote the Mixteca Alta region as a place where specialty coffee is grown.
According to Abigail González, another local buyer, “Having a direct relationship also allows us to ensure that the higher value we are paying for quality goes directly into the hands of the producer, and not to an intermediary.”
3rd place winner Marciano Filogonio Aparicio Lopez with his certificate and prize money.
The winner this year is Onesimo Elias García Pérez from the community of San Isidrio Paz y Progreso. In a short speech he explained, “Our coffee is ignored by the industry. Thank God for this competition. It inspires us to keep going. And that’s what we need—something to inspire us to continue to improve.”
The second place scorer for Female Coffee, Florencia Heriberta López García, says with a smile, “I am so happy seeing my score. I’m aiming for even higher next year. I will push myself, or die in the attempt!” She is 78 years old.
Coffee growing women placed well at the competition too.
According to Paz, “The event represents an emotional and economic acknowledgement for these producers and the region. I see the great satisfaction of the producers to have this space to recognize their efforts and highlight their coffee. It is a strong motivator for producers to continue improving the quality of their coffee.”
Anita Dilmaya is a 35-year-old farmer from the village of Sunkhani in central Nepal. She and her husband struggle to support their three children with the small amount of maize and rice she harvests from her farmland. To make ends meet, Anita most recently worked as a temporary farm laborer for a nearby commercial vegetable farm and her husband took a part-time job in the local school cafeteria.
Last year, in Anita’s village, Vibrant Village Foundation began a three-year partnership with Nepal-based nonprofit, Society for Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Research and Development (SECARD). The livelihoods and organic gardening project has engaged Anita, and other village residents like her, in trainings on organic gardening, bio-pest management and reducing chemical inputs. She is an active member of her local farmers’ group and has recently begun her own small-scale commercial farming, applying her newly gained skills.
With SECARD’s help, Anita built a small greenhouse on her property where she grows tomatoes, beans and other vegetables. SECARD provided the bamboo and plastic, and neighboring farmers took turns helping assemble their structures. For the first time, she is selling excess produce, and has earned a substantial income from her vegetable farm.
In her first year, Anita has sold about 300 kilograms of tomatoes, bringing in $200 of income. She says, “With this extra income earned from the commercial vegetable production from my own land, we do not need to hire out our labor to tiresome work at a much lower rate.”
Vibrant Village Foundation supports Surfaid with a $31,345 one-year grant to facilitate construction of a solar-powered water pump and complementary sanitation and hygiene projects for nearly 300 people in the village of Eruparaboat, Indonesia.
The villagers of Eruparaboat have struggled to rebuild their community since they were displaced by a tsunami in October 2010. Located in the remote Mentawai Island chain of northwestern Indonesia, they already had limited access to resources, government support and health services. In their relocated area, away from the coast, up the hill in the middle of the jungle, those resources are non-existent. Vibrant Village Foundation and SurfAid are working closely with local village leadership to improve health and nutrition. A new drinking water system constructed by community labor is nearing completion.
It was cloudy in Kinumbuk, at SurfAid’s basecamp in South Pagai. We were getting ready to go to the Eruparaboat hamlet. Our agriculture officer, Nando, had scheduled an activity with Eruparaboat’s women who are interested in starting a vegetable garden.
The meeting and other activities are part of SurfAid’s Long-Term Post Tsunami Recovery Program. The vegetable garden aims to support mothers with children under five, in particular, with a source of nutritious food to reduce the number malnourished children and pregnant mothers.
Nutrition is a big concern in the area. The relocated communities have no farming activities, are very far from a local market and have not yet found new sources of income. With nutrition gardens, families do not need to spend money on vegetables and can sell the surplus. The community is keen to participate, but has to balance the tasks of reconstructing their homes with participating in activities to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. To address these competing priorities, the residents decided that the men would focus on the house construction, while the women participated in setting up the gardens.
So, there we were, ready to go. Friska, our nutrition advisor, Gonggom, our health promotion officer, and I joined Nando for the activity. We planned to work together with the community to clear the land so they could start the vegetable demonstration plot on land next to their church.
We first stopped at the house of Ibu Susan, a community health volunteer. Susan is one of the natural leaders in the hamlet, and an active health volunteer for the community health post. When we arrived, the rain was pouring down, so we chatted for a few minutes hoping for the rain to go down. Before long Ibu Susan turned to us matter-of-factly and said, “Shall we go”? We were surprised, since it was still raining so hard. “I know it is raining,” she explained, “But I have go because some of the mothers might be waiting at the arranged place. I have to keep my promise whatever the situation is, whether the mothers are there or not. If any mothers are there, we can decide together what’s best. If it’s canceled, that is fine, but at least I showed up as I promised.”
We walked for two kilometers from Ibu Susan’s house to the plot next to the church. Along the way, the mothers from houses we passed shouted out to Ibu Susan to ask if the activity was still happening. To each person, Ibu Susan replied, “Just meet in the church, and see if the rain will stop!”
With this reassurance, the mothers got ready and caught up with us at the church.
While waiting for other mothers at the site, I asked Ibu Susan how many women had joined. She said, “In the beginning, it was only 5 to 10 women, but then more and more wanted to join. At first, they thought the demonstration nutrition garden was only for a few families. But then I explained that it is for the whole community, so whoever wants to join, we are happy to work with and learn together.”
Ibu Susan recalled how Gonggom and Nando described the demonstration garden as a ‘school’ for the community to learn how to have a good productive vegetable garden. “We do know how to plant,” she explained, “But most of the time we find pests in the vegetables or have some other planting issue. We don't know whether we did wrong or right.”
Susan continued, “With this demonstration garden, we want to improve our knowledge, so that later we can practice it in our homes. Some mothers also asked about the harvest from the demonstration garden. We will use the harvest from the demonstration garden as the source of supplementary food in the community health post or for the cooking nutritious food class activity.”
By that time, other women had arrived and the rain stopped. There were about 30 women who happily joined to clear the land. They brought their own machetes and gloves. Some women also carried their children with them. After a short briefing from Ibu Susan and Nando, all of us jumped up and start clearing the bushes, stones and tree trunks!
It took less than one hour to clear the 400 square meter piece of land set aside for the demonstration garden activity. After the work, we sat together for a coffee before wrapping up to go back home. The women agreed to finalize clearing the land the next week, and to start preparing the soil the week after. “Together with SurfAid, we are sure that we can practice our vegetable garden at home, harvest good results and feed our families with nutritious food. Plus, we also can save some money,” said Ibu Susan laughing.