Harvest Time in Nicaragua

Saludos from Jinotega, Nicaragua! I am back  in Nicaragua to witness the beginning of the 2011-2012 coffee harvest as well as check in on the progress with our Direct Trade producers Roberto Bendaña and the Las Mercedes group of the Aldea Global Co-op.

This morning started with an early breakfast with Roberto, who lives in Managua, and then a speedy trip in his death-by-text-mobile to his farms El Paraiso and El Quetzal in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. I am convinced that Roberto has it out for me, but at least this time he didn't try to pass two semis on a two lane road while emailing from his blackberry, so maybe his driving is getting better. We arrived at the farm and found the 205 pickers who were working on El Quetzal. This is only the beginning of the harvest, so the pickings are slim. During the peak of the season, starting around January, Roberto will have around 1,700 pickers working on all of his farms.

As we were wandering the farm with the pickers, who were working in cuadrillos of 50 workers, each led by a boss, a loud conch shell blared through the hills. This was the sign for lunchtime, and all of the workers came pouring out of their hillside picking spots to line up for their daily meal. Roberto provides a meal every day for every person that is working on his farms. Today’s meal came in large plastic drums: rice, beans, veggies, and a drink. Each worker brings his own bowl and cup, and Roberto’s cooks dole out the food. The quantity of food was outstanding, and the logistics of providing that much food was amazing.

While the pickers ate lunch, Roberto and I drove over to El Paraiso to check on the development of the plants there. Ripening has been pretty late this year, and the first red cherries are just starting to slowly ripen right now. There were no pickers on El Paraiso today, but we were able to see the new bathrooms that Roberto built, complete with showers, flushing toilets, and a concrete pathway. Roberto’s next project is to replace the tin roofs of the workers quarters on El Paraiso, which he estimates will cost around $4,500.

From El Paraiso we returned to El Quetzal to visit the elementary school and nursery that Roberto runs. Right now there are only about 35 children, but at the peak of the harvest, there will be around 80 children cared from by 4 teachers, who are wives of pickers and workers on the farm. The next Direct Trade proposal is to renovate the school buildings. The roofs and floors are new, but the wooden walls need to be replaced with concrete. Last year, Roberto’s sister organized the purchase of 10 refurbished iMac computers for the school, and they are in the process of training the teachers to conduct classes in the computer room. It’s a very impressive project!

We dined on a delicioso meal of beans, beans, and more beans, before Roberto had to head back to Managua. I was driven in an armored truck with an armed guard to Jinotega. Along the way, we stopped to pick up a woman and her baby who needed a ride to the main road. The woman handed me her baby and then hopped in the back of the truck, leaving me petrified with no seat belt on a bumpy road holding an infant. Only in Nicaragua.

Tomorrow I am headed to visit the co-op producers from Las Mercedes to check in on their harvest and last year’s investments. Until then!

Learn more about direct trade at projectdirectcoffee.com.


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