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Growing Pains: the Rebirth of Nicaragua

BAGSA is one of the associations concentrating on upgrading and certifying coffee quality for the country. Before that can happen, Nicaraguans must figure out how to unite all growers to create long term coffee improvement projects. This year Nicaragua is holding a double-edged sword. The price of coffee has fluctuated between $0.70 - $0.85 per pound, the lowest it has been in six years. This means a producer will receive between $0.25 - $0.35 per pound, when the production cost per pound is between $0.40-$0.50. It is difficult to fulfill the immediate need to sell the coffee, when prices don’t even cover production costs. BAGSA must create an alternative long- term plan that will minimize dependence on the commercial market in hope of a better specialty market. Nicaraguan coffee has the potential to improve and be sold as specialty coffee.

In desperate times, the hope of all producers is to create specialty grade coffee that could find a direct, consistent market at a viable base price. But, how do producers concentrate on the long term when the short term is losing money? They fight to find an alternative and break the vicious loop.

BAGSA invited Willem Boot, of Boot Coffee Consulting, and myself, of Kafé Jade, to conduct a training course on tasting and the international coffee market. Over four days, we saw producers, exporters, government representatives, bank executives and brokers all concerned with the fate of Nicaraguan coffee. The desperation to find a solution to the current price situation was evident within each sector.

It became clear that by improving the coffee’s quality and creating understandable classification systems throughout Nicaragua; there could be an increase in production, and an improvement in Nicaragua’s reputation amongst the international coffee community. The questions still remain: who will take on the responsibility to unite all sectors during such desperate times? how will it be done? and where will the economic resources come from, when coffee is obviously not generating any income this year?

BAGSA’s first training course that we designed, “The Three Elements of Coffee Success, Tasting, Commercialization and Quality,” is taking the initiative by providing much needed information on the coffee market. Our approach is to provide a broad overview of the commercial and specialty markets, while helping the participants identify the problems of the Nicaraguan coffee sector, in order to facilitate the creation of viable and practical solutions. Then, they must decide how to unite all of the different sectors, re-position themselves in the market, and create a long-term game plan. “It is an uphill battle, but what other alternative do we have? Our desperation is our motivating factor,” one participant states.

Hilaria’s struggle to succeed is a reflection of her country’s fight to overcome tragedy and adversity. Her dream to be more than a coffee sorter has brought her to the cupping table. She is a refreshing sight; a young woman immersed in a man’s profession. Older men that have been around for a long time, preserving traditional coffee standards and opinions, dominate the tasting profession in Latin America. Even in the United States, there are only a handful of women tasters. She is passionate about coffee and wants to continue learning. It was clear to us that she is on her way to becoming an excellent taster.

Hilaria wants to return to school and study Agriculture, specializing in coffee. However, she works from 7:30am to 5:00pm for a small salary that leaves her little room to do anything else. Her family can not help her. She has been offered other jobs, like being a barista, that would pay more, but we encouraged her to stick with tasting. “You can go far as a taster, travel all around the world, and really help your country,” I encouraged her, “There are few women in this profession, and we must stick together.”

Nicaragua and Hilaria have a lot in common, they are both starting over. However, there is no other place to go but up. Although she may not know it yet, she is at the core of the Nicaraguan coffee improvement plan. It will be tasters like Hilaria, young and enthusiastic, that will learn the new ways of the market and the current requirements to bring their country into the new era of specialty quality standards. Together, Hilaria can help her country recognize, designate, and distribute a quality product that will not only be the realization of her own dream, but one she may share with her country.

Krystell Guzman is founder of Kafé Jade, a consulting business that specializes in creating a bridge between origin producers and the markets where their products are sold. She can be contacted via e-mail at cafeik@aol.com.

Tea & Coffee - March/April 2001


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