Farm: Grupo de Asesores de producción Orgánica y Sustentable S.C
Varietal: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, & Catimor
Processing: Fully washed & dried on patios
Altitude: 1,500+ metres above sea level
Owner: Various smallholder coffee
Town / City: 194 communities
Grapos Siltepec Organic - Mexico
Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, has long been known for its high grown coffee. The largest producing state in the country, with high altitudes and plentiful water sources, Chiapas has all the potential for high quality coffee production. The socio-political landscape is not without its challenges, however. Years of disinvestment at the level of the state has left the state’s overwhelmingly smallholder farmers at a great disadvantage, for the most part underprepared to confront recent crises such as climate change, the appearance of coffee leaf rust and aging plantation age (not to mention general economic stagnation in rural communities).
The producer organisation Grupo de Asesores de Producción Orgánica y Sustentable (GRAPOS) S.C was formed in August of 2007 in order to give smallholder farmers a leg up in facing these challenges. Emerging from the price crises of the 90s and early noughts, coffee farming communities near the town of Tapachula at the Southern tip of Chiapas were feeling at wits end. As farmers began comparing notes, they realised they were all in a similar situation. When GRAPOS first formed, 90 small holder farmers - mostly from the Siltepec municipality - saw joining together as the only way that they could survive in the new climate.
The Group knew that it would be necessary to gain Organic and Fair Trade certification in order for them to grow, since these certifications would enable them to reach new markets for their production. They achieved certification and began reaching out to new communities and producers, always with the aim of helping small holder farmers gain market access and improve their production and livelihoods. Their gains have been quite impressive by any standards. From 2007 until 2016, GRAPOS grew from 90 members to a highly active group of 3,337 members hailing from 194 communities in Southern Chiapas. Today, the largest group of members still hail from Siltepec municipality, but their numbers also count with members from Comalapa, Escuintla, and Soconusco.
GRAPOS’s mission, above all, is to be the leading group of coffee producers in Chiapas. To them, this means offering an exceptional and sustainable product to their clients whilst also ensuring social and economic development for their members. In order to achieve this mission, they invest heavily in training and financing for members, providing essential services including access to pre-harvest finance, technical assistance and community development programs.
Recently, the Group has tackled the issue of coffee leaf rust, which has decimated so many coffee plots across Mexico and was responsible for a 20% decrease in production in between 2012/13 harvest and 2014/15 harvests alone. The group began working in 2014 to ensure that their members had access to high quality seedlings that were resistant to rust and other diseases. ECOM’s Mexico has established a large nursery in Chiapas, where they cultivate varieties known for marrying high cup quality with resistance to disease. As part of their coffee leaf rust project, GRAPOS began working with ECOM and since this time have been able to give away one high-producing, rust-resistant plant per every 30 bags sold to the cooperative by its members. The impact will be significant and will help members to continue farming coffee well into the future.
In order to maintain optimal growing conditions, GRAPOS members are encouraged to renovate their coffee trees, use fertilizer, implement soil conservation measures, and manage shade levels. These sustainable practices help achieve important rural development objectives and can be seen as a way to overcome low yields, poverty, and land degradation. To this end, GRAPOS provides training and technical services to all its members and run several demonstration plots where Organic ‘best practices’ are taught.
Most members (68+ %) of the group utilize 100% organic means of production. The work done annually consists of cutting and removing branches after harvesting, two phases of weeding and an application of compost, all of which is work executed by the owners of the plots and their families. During harvest, around 3 passes of selective handpicking are made. After being harvested, the cherries are pulped on the producers’ own farms and then fermented in tanks or other containers for approximately 20 to 24 hours before being washed in clean water. After being fully washed, the coffee is delivered to cement patios where it is regularly raked and dried until it reaches the optimal humidity of 11.5 to 12%.
The group aims improve productivity whilst maintaining their organic certification and also fortifying the living conditions of each member. Plans for the future include major renovation work to ensure future production and establishing raised beds on members’ farms to ensure better and more even drying of coffee.