Up amongst the steaming piles of lava that cascade down from the Santa Ana volcano lies the cooperative Las Cruces, a small Fair Trade coffee coop. Ok, there’s no steaming lava, just miles of coffee plants.
Hidden amongst those hectares of coffee on the north side of the Santa Ana volcano is the cooperative Las Cruces. It’s well hidden, just off the main road and easy to miss, even when I walked past their office. A two-room building, Las Cruces is a developing cooperative. I met Eduardo, the President, a slightly serious-looking and heavy-set bloke, at the office. It turned out their office had been built the previous year with their first Fair Trade “premium”. From the outside, you would never know. It’s all very low-key and primitive-looking.
Las Cruces is a small co-operative and new to Fair Trade. Although in existence for 32 years, it’s only the last four years they have been involved in Fair Trade. Currently the co-op comprises 42 families, who roughly have a 2-hectare sized coffee plot. Their typical annual production is around 5,000 quintales (0.5m lbs) of green (oro) coffee. Most of it (80%) is for export. All is now Fair Trade.
Eduardo told me why he thought Fair Trade works for them. Although the typical salary of people in the area is similar for those inside of out of the co-op, he said that the community benefits from the “social premium” that Fair Trade certification provides. A typical salary for a worker is $140/month. The first Fair Trade premium was used to build the office extension and Eduardo said this year’s premium would be used to improve the access roads that the families use to access their coffee. He hopes more families will join the co-op. He believes that in doing so this would benefit the whole area by improving the living standards and health of all the local families.
The dirt roads we took on a tour of the coffee areas were in fairly bad shape, though easier to navigate now that it was the dry season. Like I’d heard from other producers here and in Guatemala, Las Cruces received some serious rains that reduced the harvest this year. Eduardo said it would be an incredible 40% lower. Last October, more than 1000mm of rain hit the region in just over a week. The intensity of the rainfall meant that the coffee ‘berries’ fell off the bushes. Every producer I’d met had commented that weather patterns are unpredictable nowadays. For most, the changing climate is not helping. For several families this year, Eduardo said, they will need access to credit through the co-op, because of the lower harvest.
The took our tour through the coffee area in mid-afternoon. The small size of the co-op means they do not have any beneficio on-site. Therefore, to meet Fair Trade/organic standards (that require the coffee to be ‘washed’ on the day of picking) the producers must bring their coffee to be loaded onto a waiting truck that then drives to a shared facility at Los Pinos, a short drive away.
It’s incredible the amount of work the families have to do at harvest time. Not only does everyone in the family get involved in coffee-picking, they work every day and they work long hours. Starting before dawn, they pick coffee until early afternoon. Hauling the sacks of coffee to the collecting area is done on foot. From there, all the families sit and wait to load the truck. Although the atmosphere seemed convivial and light-hearted, the families must wait until their coffee is weighed and loaded up. They won’t be finished and until late afternoon.
However, I got the sense that this is the start of the better future for the co-operative. Although they have proportionally high costs of licencing and inspections, they do have the potential to improve the lives of the local families, and Eduardo is using his 32 years of experience to give these families a better, more hopeful future.
An interesting link profiling the Las Cruces co-op and some of its members can be found here too: