Nicaraguan Solutions to the Coffee Crisis:
An Interview With Roberto Bendanya
by David Griswold, Founder and President, Sustainable
Reprinted with permission of Fresh
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,