Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Farmer Profile: Alexis Lorenzo Gonzales

Don Alexis, with a load of of coffee ready to sell to the intermediary.

When I first meet Alexis Lorenzo he is wearing the brand new Farmer to Farmer t-shirt that we brought down for each of the farmers who sent coffee in 2013.  He sits and listens while we have a meeting with him and about 20 other farmers in El Sute. There is an agronomist named Arnoldo present for the meeting from IHCAFE, the Honduran technical institute that supports coffee farmers. Arnoldo is talking at length about quality issues, followed by other people who also talk at length, including me. If there is one thing coffee farmers can talk about for a long time, it is coffee. People are getting up and walking around to stretch every so often. Alexis is on the outside of the conversation and says nothing. He has come to the meeting with a couple purposes that have little to do with all the talking.

there's me in the blue jacket and Alexis behind me in the green shirt.

Near the end of the meeting, there is a request for participation from the audience. A young man stands up and makes an eloquent pitch for people to grow organic vegetables near their houses. As the visiting Gringo, I am asked what I think about organic vegetables, and of course I say I am in favor of people growing vegetables. After the meeting, Alexis introduces the young man to me as his son, Blas. Blas is attending university in Agronomy and he is looking to do practical project work in his village, supporting organic gardening. Alexis had encouraged Blas to come and see if Farmer to Farmer could support his son’s project. I promise to see if we can bring some seeds down with us next year.

In the little that we get to know Alexis, we get to see that he is doing everything to support the education of his children. All four of his children have received some advanced schooling. His daughter Johana has graduated and come home to be the nurse for the community, and Blas is finishing his degree and helping his father make organic fertilizers. The other two, Alex Geovani and Rudi Ariel are also in school. As we talk it becomes clear that the sale of the coffee is entirely necessary to pay for all the education expenses. In fact, later that evening, Alexis returns to where we are staying and he pulls me aside. He asks if I know anyone who might be interested in buying a couple acres of good farmland; he has a tuition payment due soon or a son will have to leave school. I encourage him to get some coffee ready to sell to Farmer to Farmer and that our down payment will help make the tuition payment. I hope he doesn’t have to sell off his land.

My experience with Alexis makes me even more committed to maintaining a good price for our farmers. The global commodity market fluctuates significantly from year to year. Two years ago the global price was twice what it is now, but the coffee farmers’ expenses have stayed the same or increased. So right now farmers who made financial commitments when the prices were high are having a hard time keeping up with those commitments, with half the income. Add to that that these same farmers have been hit hard by the Coffee Rust (Roya) and lost an average of half their crop. Times are tough. Our commitment to farmers hits reality when we can see that our consistent high price from year to year can allow the farmers to honor their own financial commitments, like tuition, and make long range plans. My only wish is that we could buy more of their crop. Right now we buy only a portion of what each of our farmers produce, and the rest they are forced to sell at much lower prices to the intermediaries who buy coffee in their village.

Alexis describes his farm for me because we don't have time to visit on this trip. He has about 4 acres of organic coffee. His farm is at 1550 meters above sea level and he has been organic for 4 years. His biggest problem right now is the Roya, which has affected almost all of his coffee. He grows mostly the susceptible varieties: Arabica, Paca, Caturra, and Burbon. His processing facility is simple. He has a manual de-pulper, ferments the coffee in sacks, dries the coffee in the drying shed of a friend, and transports the coffee in the truck of a friend. He grows his own corn and beans too. When he is asked for a message for Farmer to Farmer members, he says "Thanks to God, Life and Future Generations."

Don Alexis coffee was not cupped separately, because his coffee was sent mixed with Don Chico's coffee. Please see Don Chico's profile for comments on the cupping of that coffee.

Corrin with Alexis, sporting the same t-shirt

There goes a load of coffee


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