Wednesday, January 26, 2011

HONDURAS - Farmer Profile – Don Chico

Organic microbial fermentation fertilizer at Don Chico's farm

 Don Chico's home coffee plantation. Note that he has planted the coffee under pine trees, which is unusual for the area - mostly the pine is cut down and replaced with other shade trees

Don Chico's Front yard, complete with the Caja Rural's wooden shack, Don Chico's coffee-drying hoophouse, the Caja's truck, and Hector's truck with our backpacks

Don Chico (yellow shirt), daughter (to his right), wife (to his left), and grandkids and friend

Don Chico and Family

Don Chico's grandson posing for us in front of the house

The Caja Rural's Store

Don Chico posing for us in his coffee plantation

Coffee with Shade trees

The Caja Rural's meeting notes.

by Andy

During our recent trip to Honduras (Dec 31st to Jan 14th). We first met Don Chico (Francisco Alvarado) in Comayagua at Adalid’s house. He had come by to check on a coffee de-pulping machine that Adalid was fixing for him and we were there planning the backpacking trip to the cloud forest. Adalid introduced us because Don Chico is in the coffee co-op, and I started to tell him all about Farmer to Farmer. After a little bit, I figured out that he was in a hurry and we decided to wait for the whole story. Even through my cultural barrier, I could tell that he was a man on a mission. Later, when we stayed at his house, we discovered that this is his constant state. He is into everything and moving forward on all fronts.

This year, during our visit to Honduras I was determined that we would visit the community of El Sute, where some of our coffee came from last year. Last year when we came, several farmers from El Sute had walked 2 hours to join the meeting we had with farmers from El Tamarindo. So this year we decided to go the extra distance to see their farms firsthand. To get to El Sute, we took the road from Comayagua for about an hour of bumpy dirt roads all the way to El Tamarindo, then we continued on a new road for another 45 minutes through pine forests climbing up and up all the way to the communities of El Horno and El Sute. We had climbed a total of over 3000 feet from Comayagua and now at every turn we had a fantastic vista. When we got to El Sute, we stopped at the first house along the road and we were instantly greeted by Don Chico. We did not know it yet, but for the next 24 hours we would be under the spell of his frenetic hospitality.

Instantly we were brought up to see the compost piles. They had been working with the culture and growth of microorganisms to fertilize the coffee plantation and he was eager to show the results. Along with Zac and I, we also had Hector (an agronomist) and Adalid (the president of the co-op), and Don Chico was checking to see if he was doing it right. They talked about the finer points of organic fertilizer and then we went to see the hoophouse where they dry the coffee beans. Eventually we ended up in a wooden shack in his front yard, where we drank coffee and waited for the other farmers from El Sute to show up for a meeting with us of the co-op members.

Here in the shack we came to appreciate some things that make El Sute different from the other communities we have visited on the mountain. There was a blackboard on the end wall with the proceedings from a meeting of the “Caja Rural” of El Sute. The Caja is a mutual lending group, where the members each make an initial investment to build up capital. Then the members in the Caja use the capital to make loans and investments within the community. This benefits the recipients of the loans and over time builds the capital. On the blackboard we could see that the Caja members had investments in a pick-up truck, beef cattle, and organic fertilizers. Don Chico’s house appeared to be a center of both the Caja and the coffee co-op because the truck was parked outside and there were several grazing animals tied up in various locations around the house. Inside the shack was a Lenca flag. The Lenca are an indigenous group which historically occupied most of central Honduras. From Don Chico we learned that although El Sute and El Horno just recently got their first roads, the communities are very old, dating back to colonial and pre-colonial times. The people take pride in their native heritage, and continue to identify as a native community. This is in contrast to Rio Negro and some of the other mountain communities that have come about in the last 50 years as people move into the mountains to grow coffee. In fact, in El Sute coffee growing is relatively new. When I was there 15 years ago in the Peace Corps, the whole region was a patchwork of corn and beans and pasture, with very little coffee.

During our meeting with the farmers Don Chico powered up the generator so we could have electric light. After the meeting, piles of food were brought out and then we were offered a place to sleep in the same wooden shack. Although we had already made arrangement to stay in the school at El Horno, we were much happier here with Don Chico. The next day, Don Chico canceled his plans to go to Comayagua in order that he might take us to his coffee plantation. First he showed us the plantation by the house. We took numerous photos of his grandkids picking coffee, and then he brought us up the mountain to his other plantation. Along the way we saw the store that is operated by the Caja Rural. Each Caja member has to take a month off out of each year and tend the store. From Don Chico’s plantation we could see the whole valley. His coffee was dense and verdant, under an abundant canopy of shade trees. He and Adalid talked at length about managing the plantation, from fertility to pruning to managing the shade trees.  

It is exciting to see the synergy between the Caja Rural and the coffee co-op. It is also thrilling to meet someone as serious about his community as Don Chico. We will definitely be back.

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