Processing a Lata Coffee

  • Community Growth
  • Business
  • Agriculture
  • Panama
This project is led by Rachel Beglin, a Volunteer from Michigan

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In many rural communities worldwide, hardworking farmers remain poor because their products are purchased cheaply by intermediaries who take advantage of their lack of accessibility. However, a small coffee producers group in the local community has united to change the narrative. They want to take their primary product - coffee - and process it themselves, creating a small business and developing both organizational and technical skills to better the financial situations of themselves and their families. These eight coffee producers have worked hard to fundraise $500.00 and build each member his own solar dryer, knowing they can sell their coffee cherries dry to fetch a higher price. In order to continue moving up the processing chain and receive a truly fair price for the labor of harvesting coffee, these men have agreed to work together to obtain a piladora, or huller, a machine that cuts away the fruit and leaves only the coffee bean, ready for toasting. The piladora will serve as an instrument to democratizing coffee processing in the district, not only for the eight producers but for all of the surrounding coffee farmers who too will have access to the machine. The producers' group is ready to construct the building that will house the pilaodra, as well as attend trainings in business, money management, goal-setting, registries, and leadership, with the hopes that they can create a group fund and purchase other coffee-processing equipment in the future as they continue to expand their cooperative.

Their wives and children are highly involved in both the coffee harvest and drying of coffee, and they even helped with the fundraisers. Raising five hundred dollars in the local community is no easy task and took nearly seven months. Now that they have a surefire way to dry coffee in large quantities, they feel ready to bring the piladora to the community. Additionally, the President of the coffee group accompanied the volunteer to a presentation of the piladora by the company they are hoping to buy from and made critical connections with the business for both this and future purposes. We have already had practice selling products together through both a large platano project they planted in a shared lot, as well as selling their coffee grounds weekly in the local market. In the three years the group has been working together, they have created and met goals, raised and managed substantial amounts of money, and seen products go from seed to market. They are eager to continue developing their technical and organizational skills and expand their project.

The community should have no problem maintaining this project. The coffee producers’ group already has a small fund, to which they will add with incoming coffee profits and from which they will pull for maintenance costs like fuel and replacing parts. The project committee has met with technicians from the piladora company, I have faith that in the event of a broken part or other problem, they have working relationships with the people who can help them resolve those problems. As coffee is their primary livelihood, they will take good care of the machinery and value it as a community resource. Beyond just physical maintenance of the machine, the group's long history of working together and their success in other smaller projects like selling platano and ground coffee and raising the money for the solar dryer plastic has taught them many lessons about conflict resolution, money management, and group dynamics. They have elected a committee with a President, Treasurer, and Secretary so that no one person is juggling everything. They are practicing making coffee registries of their farms this year, keeping track of coffee harvested and coffee sold. These skills will bleed over into the work they have ahead of them and aid them as they manage a larger fund (and eventually open a joint bank account), schedule workdays, buy coffee from their neighbors, and eventually invest in more equipment until they have their very own small business in selling coffee grounds directly to vendors and consumers without intermediaries.

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