Yes we CAN! Summer Intern Thoughts

7 Aug

Eddie is so happy to be back within internet range (*internet grasp?) to be able to share about wonderful experiences and thoughts. In particular, it was 2.5 months in CoopaBuena, Costa Rica, which lies about 30 kilometers from Panama on the South side. See background post: /~/a-different-perspective-participatory-action-research/. After the fact, I’ve not only grown in a lot of personal ways (next post, a good dual purpose of this blog) but have some sound advice for organizations, researchers, and extension agents who are looking to expand to this area.

Coffee is a magestic crop; full of history and intrigue. An ecological coffee farm is really like no other in that it harbors a great diversity of trees and a near-vertical slope. Birds fly from tree to tree eating guavas, and you see squirrels in the branches. Coffee was historically a large part of the region’s land. But the crop harbors a deep secret, which is a conventional sale price that doesn´t pay for the farmer´s time and a processing requirement that the cooperative can’t pay off. Cooperative issues are tense; the much-heralded solution for the old plant’s misfortune isn’t working either to keep afloat financially nor achieve a much higher price for its farmers. A revealing financial analysis published by California Monterrey State showed that something had to change in the administration of cooperative debt: cut costs or increase sales. It´s not an economically profitable activity as such: the cooperative is sustaining $20,000 a year losses. The cooperative is going bust.

Locally, the work in communicating and organizing producers’ techniques is the only way to achieve a higher price and ensure their rural development. My work and specialty is in making this movement, this transition to a sustainable economy, is to differentiate the product. Organics are difficult, but that certification would be one way. An internal mark is more difficult, because consumers don’t trust just any coffee mark. Internal verification can either be academic (sloppy) or professional (expensive), but in global supply chains product differentiation is the only way cooperatives can compete, so that each farmer can cover his own costs of living through the year. The application means a lot of slow meetings and analysis, calls and farm visits in order to align producers. These are my tools to build an international bridge for the product.

Nick´s research left behind a whole series of new requirement in the form of a bullet-point, self-applied “agroeco-coffee” certification. Surely now the certification will be implemented, as the farmers know about the important benefits of trees within their areas. They know now not to use chemicals because it is bad for their environment. They are willing to go the extra work on the condition that a higher price is coming. Maybe it really will: 3-5 years out, they may be well off.

Needless to say it has been great living here on extended stay these last six months. I leave feeling optimistic. I will return now to Boston and finish a study in Economics and International Relations, but will be working on this full-time afterwords. I welcome any comments from future readers of this paper, and hope that we can form our own community of dedicated people working for change. I know that my future work is to help these farmers achieve self-sufficient (but sustainable) economic power in what is an international agricultural crisis. An internship at CAN is a small step along that path, but I hope some day to return with a title and an organization to the region. As I said, the people and experiences have been invaluable.

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