Whether a farmer can make a profit depends on whether their total
income exceeds their costs. There are different models for farming
coffee. Some, like high-intensity monoculture farming, produce more
coffee but also cost more because they require more inputs. Some cost
very little but also produce very little. And many factors influence
quality, which also affects the end price the farmer earns. Whether
coffee farming is profitable is a question of how farmers decide to
allocate their resources.
In order to develop strategies to make
coffee farming more attractive and profitable, it’s first necessary to
identify how and why farmers make the choices they do. What constraints
do they face (e.g., land availability, access to capital, household
health)? Can improved varieties that are higher yielding, disease resistant, and higher quality help farmers to address these constraints—and what are the limitations of their success?
In San Pedro Yepocapa, in the famous Antigua region of Guatemala, coffee farmers were especially hard hit by an outbreak of Hemileia vastatrix or coffee leaf rust. The severe reductions in farmer income exacerbated an already difficult economic situation: Yepocapa is the fourth poorest municipality in the country with a poverty rate of 73.9%. Nearly half of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition. Can better plants help a community like Yepocapa to find sustainable success with coffee?
The use of new rust-resistant varieties, accompanied by
education on farming economics and coffee mill wastewater management, should represent an economical, effective and sustainable approach to revitalize family coffee farms and associated community livelihoods in Yepocapa.
World Coffee Research, together with Anacafe, have distributed two improved varieties to farmers in the region—new rust-resistant sarchimore type called Marsellesa, and an F1 hybrid variety called Centroamericano—and are studying the impact of improved plants. Although the F1 varieties have been tested extensively in Central America over the past five years with excellent results, few evaluations have been done with smallholder communities and most small farmers are unaware of the new varieties or do not have easy access to them.
Over 170,000 seedlings have been distributed to 339 farmers in six cooperatives that were affected by rust. Each farmer received enough seedlings for a 1/6 hectare test plot (a value of $280 per farmer), as well as fertilizer and training, on which they can gain first-hand experience in managing these varieties. The goal is to show farmers how the new varieties compare to their current varieties in their own fields, to study the performance of the varieties, and to understand barriers to their success.
We believe that, farmers participating in the trial will see substantial improvements in coffee yields, as well as improved quality and protection from losses to disease. Within 2-3 years most farmers in San Pedro Yepocapa will be interested in further renovation with the improved varieties. WCR and Anacafé will be there to work with NGOs, exporters and coffee companies to support those efforts.
As well, WCR expects to identify key barriers for smallholder uptake of or success with new varieties, which will allow researchers, development
organizations, and governments to plan better strategies for improving
farmer livelihoods through renovation projects. Understanding how and why farmers make decisions
will give invaluable insights—based on solid data and rigorous
analysis—to those working to improve smallholder profitability and
improve farmer quality of life. It will also establish a comprehensive
framework for analyzing production costs and provide useful insights to
buyers and industry specialists who are interested in building a
sustainable price structure for the farmer.