Thursday, October 05, 2006

Painful legacy of Guatemala storm

BBC NEWS Americas Painful legacy of Guatemala storm

You ask, why Fair Trade Coffee; these high volcanic mountains nurture the best coffee in the world. These are the farmers and workers of the harvest, often working from near inaccessible hectares high above their villages, hand picking the choicest cherries. They speak neither Spanish nor English. They are gentle Mayan, but in desperation, can be lead to rebellion or illicit cash crops. Without fair treatment, none of this remote high mountain coffee gets to market or if it does the Coyotes cheat the growers, and they have nothing. These high mountain coffee trees are transplanted by the Spanish from the fine Arabica (Arabic) trees from Ethiopia, thus the name. The plants thrived in the rich volcanic soil and yield a beautiful rich abundant large bean that is extra hard with a taste that is arguably the best in the world. Elsewhere the well known names, the beans of highest quality are subjected to chemical fertilizers, mechanical harvesting and open sun in clear cut fields, and where the highest quality beans do emerge, they are blended --- adulterated for commodity coffee export.

Lake Atitlan is a high mountain lake, crystal clear like Lake Taho. It is much larger, however, and surrounded by villages and higher volcanic mountains. They do not slash and burn for planting in Guatemala, so these harvests come from the shade of the hugh rain forests. The people are proud of their coffee, but have no facilities to mill the pergomino or roast the beans (except by the traditional process of stripping the cherries, drying the pergomino and shedding the silk by poring the beans by hand in strong sunlight and strong wind, a most colorful scene.) The growers are most happy to sell direct to the Fair Trade, specialty coffee people, but they are often hoodwinked by the big multinational roasters or their own coyotes and sometimes a combination of both.

Some of our big name importers do a fair deal and some not. Some fair trade certification is political and at a cost the grower cannot afford, same for organic. NGOs build latrines, which the mountain people do not use, some wet mills where there is no clean water. The Sustainable coffee people or the Specialty coffee people believe that if the grower gets a fair price for his coffee he, his cooperativa and his family will best see to their own traditional ways, and gentle ways they are.