Country Profile: Honduras
Country Profiles: Honduras
By 1804 at the least, Honduran coffee production was flourishing.1 At that time, there was some recognition that Honduras could produce excellent coffee. Since then, however, Honduras as become primarily a producer of commercial grade (lower quality) coffee despite having the terroir to grow great coffee. Political instability in the 20th century, lack of infrastructure, and natural disasters have all contributed to low levels of specialty coffee.
Of the 298 municipalities in Honduras, 210 have some level of coffee production in them. Coffee production involves over 100,000 Honduran families and provides over a million jobs for the country, accounting for 38% of its GDP.1 More recently, though, certain regions, Santa Barbara, Copan, and Marcala, have developed a name for Honduran specialty coffee. While most Latin American coffees known for being mellow and crisply bright, Honduran coffees are often fruity and have a distinctly caramelly flavor to them. Much of Honduran coffee production comes from small farmers (as opposed to large estates). This creates a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. It often means that individual farmers cannot get their volume high enough to begin making a decent profit and often times splitting up land between heirs becomes complicated. It may also mean that local intermediaries who control washing, drying, storage, and exporting equipment who can buy from many farmers can exercise an abusive control over prices for small land owners. Nevertheless, by owning their own farms, Honduran coffee farmers have a degree of autonomy not available in many countries. Potential growth is also higher if Honduran farmers can take advantage of opportunities and new avenues for revenue.
The Town of La Union
Of course, there’s lots of variation: OQ has begun working with farmers in the region (called a Department) of Lempira, just south of the Santa Barbara region. Coffee from the Lempira region features lots of chocolate notes with a refined fruity-like acidity (citrus, plumy) and a slight savoryness.
While altitude and terroir are perfect for growing high quality coffee, poverty, lack of infrastructure, and tradition get in the way. The lack of poverty is extremely noticeable. As soon as one crosses from Santa Barbara into Lempira, the paved roads turn into dirt roads, travel times increase, and trucking routes (necessary for cheaper export) decrease. Likewise, most small landowners have a lack of access to capital and resources needed to plan for the harvest season; most simply take their money from one harvest and hold onto it hoping they will have enough to pay pickers when the next harvest season arrives. Tradition also plays a role in limiting specialty coffee production. Many farmers in Lempira know how to grow coffee, but few of them drink it. Thus, an awareness of how green (unripe) coffee cherry, defects, washing times, varietal, and elevation effect cup quality is often lacking.
IHCAFE, a non-partisan, governmental Honduran coffee organization is taking steps to remedy these problems. Cuppings, training sessions, a model farm, feedback on samples, and consultants (notably Eugenio Paz) all serve farmers in Lempira as well as the rest of the country. La Union Microfinanza, the organization we have partnered with, is also taking steps to improve quality around the Lempira town of La Union. They’ve recently completed construction of a wet and dry mill (complete with solar driers). They, for the last several years, have provided low interest loans and fertilizer to eligible farmers. They’ve also organized a microlot program that connects growers interested in quality with buyers in the US.
In short, we expect to see more and better coffee coming out of Honduras! You can get some from OQ here.
This is a video from OQ’s 2011 trip to La Union. A UMF worker is explaining how to plant coffee seeds to a bunch of Gringos. More in depth consulting goes on with Honduran farmers.
1 “Regiones Cafetaleras de Honduras”, all rights reserved IHCAFE – Instituto Hondureño del Café. Retrieved 4.3.12 at 9:12 a.m. from http://www.ihcafe.hn/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128&Itemid=27