April 21, 2023

Agricultural Education and The Coffee Trade in Honduras

Honduras is a leading exporter of coffee in Latin America. Its coffee, tea and spice exports were worth more than 1.3 billion in 2021. This volume of exports is impressive considering that Honduras isn’t as developed as some of its neighbors. Mexico and Costa Rica have better roads, which makes trade easier. 

Agricultural and business education can go a long way in Honduras. Honduras ranks as the sixth biggest exporter of coffee worldwide. First, a brief history will illustrate the duration of the Honduran coffee trade. Then, examining the potential for agricultural education to make a difference will show the good that can be done in Honduras.

History of Coffee Growth in Honduras

Coffee reached Honduras centuries ago. The French Island of Martinique in the Caribbean was growing it well, and the beans made their way by boat to Central America. Since then, Honduran coffee beans have developed excellent flavor when grown under the right conditions.

In the past, those growing crops in Honduras didn’t have nearly the control over their livelihoods. For centuries, large haciendas that kept tight control over their workers didn’t let them enjoy the benefits of their work. Bananas were the major crop prior to coffee. Nowadays, smallholder farmers are better compensated, instead of being subjected to their profits being held by companies and the upper class. 

Today in Honduras, coffee comprises almost a third of agricultural GDP. That is impressive considering that coffee does not have nutritional value like fruit and vegetables. Coffee farmers play a big role in the Honduran economy.

The Role of Agricultural Education in Honduran Coffee

Agricultural education is important in countries like Honduras. Outside information and education are less available due to a spotty power grid and lesser internet availability. Therefore, traditional classroom and farm-based education about the best growing practices help people more in Central America than in places that already have extensive education systems and easily accessible internet. 

Another challenge facing Honduras is the inconsistency of the roads. Heavy rains can wash out a road, making it impassable for weeks. Extreme weather can also damage a crop. For example, in 1998, the vast majority of coffee was wiped out by a hurricane. The devastation in Honduras and nearby countries led coffee prices to rise by 22%. Education about ways to plant strategically and be proactive towards extreme weather and transportation empower Honduran coffee farmers and workers. Transporting green coffee requires much planning.

Of course, there are many professions and jobs in Honduras. Still, having farming skills is still worthwhile in rural areas. Demand for coffee is rising too. With sociopolitical challenges, changes in the availability of work are not uncommon. Those with farming skills are better prepared for undulations in trade or rural stagnation.

Knowledge about Pests

Few crops are immune from pests. The coffee berry borer beetle and coffee leaf rust are two challenges in Honduras. Other plant problems include coffee berry disease and root rot. Investment in pesticides and maintenance can ensure that coffee plants remain healthy.

The Coffee Berry Borer Beetle

With a name that really illustrates its target and insidious maneuvers, the coffee berry borer beetle is a major pest to Honduran coffee beans and the surrounding fruit. The borer beetle can consume caffeine, while other animals cannot. It lays eggs that grow inside the cherry fruit. That’s because the female borer beetles drill their way inside, and the holes are the major sign of a beetle problem. The hatchlings begin devouring the fruit at once. The fruit may drop sooner if there is an infestation. Luckily, pesticides and traps can address borer beetles. Farmers and farm workers who are educated about prevention, the separation of beetle-laden fruit, pesticides and traps can protect their coffee crop. 

Coffee Leaf Rust

Coffee plants in Honduras often suffer from coffee leaf rust. At times, it is the number one threat to a coffee crop. In Spanish, coffee leaf rust is called la roya and the scientific name is Hemileia vastatrix. The plants are most at risk of developing this fungus at lower altitudes. In the mountains, the cold can inhibit reproduction. Global warming is causing coffee leaf rust to spread to higher altitudes.

Coffee leaf rust is characterized by yellow, oily spots at first. Black spots can also develop. During the rainy season, it’s best to apply fungicides to the leaves if the farm is at risk. One leaf-rust-resistant variety of coffee plant was called Lempira, which is also the name for the Honduran currency. Nevertheless, Lempira lost its resistance in 2017.

Education’s Role in Producing Premier Coffees

Despite threats from pests and inconsistent transportation, with education and proactive measures, coffee from Honduras has continued to thrive. It’s not surprising considering the long history of growing coffee in Honduras. People know how to recuperate after natural disasters, pests or logistical disruptions, to continue growing as their parents or grandparents did. 

Since Honduras has produced large amounts of coffee for a long time, it’s no surprise that many growers and producers have managed to put out premier coffees. Honduras used to have a reputation of producing lesser beans only fit for blends. Nowadays, some delectable, consistent coffees are making Honduran coffee rank among coffee aficionados’ favorites.

Although many Honduran farmers received a legacy education from their families or neighbors, others have thrived with only an organized agricultural education, or with both. The market’s tendency to reward great flavor and consistency can make a formal education pay off. This is very far from an attempt to sound high brow; it’s only that increasingly challenging conditions make growing coffee a delicate balance. Between climate change, pests, logistical hurdles and socioeconomic problems, education can help coffee farmers be proactive and protective.

Jobs for Youth

Creating opportunities for agricultural education and teaching the business principles needed to run a profitable farm is difficult, especially in rural areas. Nevertheless, pushing to educate people on how to overcome farming challenges is important. Young people can especially benefit from such an education because there are so many jobs in farming in Honduras. Likewise, informed farmworkers can create more jobs for others. Almost 16% of Hondurans between the ages of 14 and 24 are looking for work but cannot find it. Investing in systems that employ young people can make a difference.

Growing Great Coffee and Educating Young People

An exemplary organization in Honduras is educating youth in agriculture and producing some of Honduras best coffee. Subida Coffee Co.’s operating non-profit prioritizes the education of youth. Many of the young men residing on the property at a boarding school would not continue their schooling without the Moses Project. Agricultural engineers make possible both the growth of great coffee and the educating of students with the most up-to-date knowledge.

The boys at the Moses Project not only learn a traditional high school curriculum, they also receive a Christian formation and agricultural and aquacultural skills. Between learning about raising tilapia, beekeeping and greenhouse vegetables, the Moses Project ensures they have a diversified education. It’s also a practical and actionable education. Learning about coffee and witnessing Subida coffee being shipped to homes and stores in far-off countries can be eye-opening. Seeing that international trade is possible, and witnessing the enthusiasm for well-cared-for coffee inspires them.

Subida coffee is hand crafted. Before being roasted in small batches, it’s harvested by hand. Only ripe coffee makes the cut. After being dried on site, it’s inspected by hand. Both young people and others in the community bear witness to the fact that coffee lovers in North America increasingly care about coffee farmers and processors not taking shortcuts. Otherwise, it would be easy to imagine that they would not have a chance to compete against corporate coffee giants. Supporting Subida Coffee Co. prioritizes ethical operations and pride in the process. It also supports a good cause and environmental sustainability.

The coffee of Subida Coffee Co. is grown by the team at the Moses Project, a 120-acre commercial farm and agriculture training center in a small community outside of Santa Rosa de Copán.
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