A New Nicaragua
by David Griswold

Nicaraguan Solutions to the Coffee Crisis: An Interview with Roberto Bendaya

Frequently Asked Coffee Questions

by Bruce Milletto

What's Brewin' — New Coffee News

Nicaraguan Solutions to the Coffee Crisis: An Interview With Roberto Bendanya

by David Griswold, Founder and President, Sustainable Harvest

Reprinted with permission of Fresh Cup Magazine

In addition to working as executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of Nicaragua and serving as a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America's International Relations Committee, Roberto Bendanya is Nicaragua's national Vice-Minister of Agriculture, which means he is charged with the daunting task of finding solutions to the difficult problems facing his country's agricultural sector. For the coffee sector to survive the ongoing pricing crisis, Bendanya, whose family has cultivated coffee for decades, believes Nicaragua must focus on quality, business alliances and diversification. During my recent trip to Nicaragua, I sat down with Bendanya, who shared his views on the future of Nicaraguan coffee.

David Griswold: What steps does Nicaragua need to take to survive this coffee crisis?

Roberto Bendanya: Through coffee, I have seen how we can create alliances with our northern neighbors, and through alliances, we can have economic growth and development for all of our people. We need to keep working on coffee quality, and we're lucky to have good altitudes and good processing to produce washed coffee. But we're now focusing on diversification. We want to help farmers depend less on one income or economic activity, so we're getting them involved in forestry and dairy.

DG: What does working on quality mean for Nicaragua?

RB: With small producers, we want to help strengthen the organizations, following the examples of several great co-op models that already exist here. In the quality component, there are two things that are helping. One is the newly constructed (USAID-funded) cupping labs. They have been a key factor pushing that effort, because cupping allows producers to know their product. The second factor is the Cup of Excellence competition. This event creates an educational component, where producers learn to know their product. Also, producers have direct contact with roasters, so it allows very small producers to have commercial relations with small roasters. The Cup of Excellence creates an environment of healthy competition to make our coffee better. As producers, we all believe that we all have the best coffee, and the Cup of Excellence provides a transparent arena where we can prove what we are doing.

DG: How does current commodity pricing impact the average coffee farmer in Nicaragua?

RB: For the small producer, it is just a life of survival. Some of the growers' kids are now unable to attend school because they must help the family find income. For larger producers, it affects their hired employees, who also are the poorest segment of the country's population. Last year, 10 kids died because their parents were unable to find employment. We are looking for emergency solutions, like Food for Aid work, but that is temporary assistance. We must focus on more long-term solutions.

DG: How do you view the U.S. coffee industry's response to the coffee price crisis?

RB: I think the "C" Market is not doing anybody any good. It creates liquidity, but to the washed producer, it is only doing harm. For the value of the coffee and the work it takes to produce it, we cannot stay within the "C" Market. It frustrates me sometimes because I lived in the United States for more than 10 years. I feel I am part of the U.S. I recognize the solidarity that exists within the population, and the willingness to help. But obviously, there is not enough knowledge among American consumers about what is happening. I think if more of the population knew what was going on around the corner from them, there could be much greater support.

About the Author - David Griswold is the president and founder of Sustainable Harvest Coffee Company, a Portland, Ore.-based green coffee importer who finds exemplary farms of organic, shade-grown and fair-trade coffees for specialty roasters through its relationship coffee program. For more information, visit www.SustainableHarvest.com.

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