December 19, 2022

Leaving Unfair Farming Behind - From Coffee Plantations in Honduras

In Latin American coffee cultivation, achieving an agricultural environment with ethical labor practices and sustainable farming is still a work in progress. However, the tide can flow away from structures like coffee plantations in Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Plantation-style farming dates back centuries. Historically speaking, plantation-style labor practices are exploitative. However, consumers worldwide are paying more attention to labor practices and environmental sustainability in supply chains that deliver their food and beverages.

Talking about “consumers worldwide” is necessary for coffee. Most delicious coffee comes from the worldwide coffee belt. This coffee-growing region forms a tall band running along the equator. North Americans will note that coffee doesn’t grow well north of Mexico. Much of the world’s population, including the top coffee-consuming countries, must import their coffee from countries closer to the equator.

With intense weather and sometimes challenging sociopolitical and economic situations, Latin American agriculture is not always a breeze, despite the fertile land. Labor standards and regulations are not as strict as in other regions. The bitter aftertaste of colonists, then the aristocracy, farming via haciendas and harsh plantations still lingers today. Moreover, fruit companies’ past exploitation of people and land in Central America, as took place on banana plantations, is another dark historical component. Unfortunately, some Central American agriculture is still carried out in farming setups that haven’t evolved much. The land of banana and coffee plantations in Honduras has largely been unconsolidated though. Luckily, the push for humane and respectful labor practices in international supply chains gains steam every year.

Why Farms and Coffee Plantations in Honduras Matter

While tropical fruits and vegetables aren’t a necessity when plenty of fruits grow in North America, coffee is a different story. Worldwide, people love propelling their mornings with coffee. Since people outside of southern California cannot purchase local coffee in the continental 48 states, they must import it. 

This is great news for the small country of Honduras. It’s located two countries south of Mexico. Coffee sales can make a big difference in Honduras. Coffee makes up 30% of the country’s agricultural GDP. With many small farms producing the bulk of the coffee, the money from sales trickles into communities. Many jobs spread throughout the country are supported by coffee. We’ll talk more about the role of coffee in countries like Honduras later.

Ethics Prevails Over Traditional Banana and Coffee Plantations in Honduras 

The opportunity to promote ethical labor practices and sustainability in Central American agriculture is vast, although these countries face developmental challenges. The governments may not guarantee a high minimum wage or certain working conditions. Nevertheless, promoting models of sustainable and ethical agriculture is the first step to multiplying them. Coffee sales are climbing. By developing a customer base for coffee grown under drastically better conditions than coffee plantations in Honduras, in the past and present, such exploitative models can get selected out.

The History of Banana Plantations

In the mid-1800s, the former Central American colonies of Spain had formed new governments. However, the control held by the hacienda or plantation system implemented by Spanish colonists remained. Power and money still rested with the upper class. Of all the crops, Honduras mainly exported bananas by 1930. Many agrarian workers growing bananas, coffee, sugar and cocoa lived only a little freer than slaves. 

Later on, the development of the transnational railroad made transporting bananas to North America possible. The United Fruit Company was formed. It became a monopolistic international corporation. It spread to several Latin American countries. The term “Banana Republic” refers to some Latin American countries in this period, when most of the power and wealth was controlled by fruit companies. Workers were treated horribly.

History of Farms and Coffee Plantations in Honduras

Refocusing on coffee-exporting opportunities, coffee first arrived to Central America and Honduras from the island of French Martinique. Coffee grew very well there starting in 1720. The first known or widespread growth of coffee by Honduran growers began in the 1800s. The crop didn’t take off. Bananas were in higher demand to export to other countries. After the mid-twentieth century, banana production waned. Coffee was ready to step in for a greater share of agricultural production but not on today’s scale. Although farms and coffee plantations in Honduras produced coffee, it wasn’t much. Many of the farms had other crops. A 1998 hurricane decimated many coffee plants. 

Today, Honduras grows a lot of coffee. Most Honduran coffee growers are smallholders. It’s an immensely fairer situation than the exploitation that occurred on haciendas. It’s a far cry from the fruit companies’ monopolization and undue power in Latin American countries.

Coffee Plantations in Honduras Need not Resurge

Concentrated control of the banana industry continues. Only a few companies produce the majority of bananas. However, coffee growth is dispersed among over 100,000 small farmers in Honduras. With wide cultivation, those involved can create ethical labor and transport practices and strengthen existing ones. Foreigner’s purchases of ethically grown coffee will help. Coffee is such a valuable crop, grown by so many, that remaining coffee plantations in Honduras shouldn’t receive further support through purchases. The power and financial benefits of coffee growth can be spread throughout the population. That’s the spirit of the fair trade movement: to avoid predatory labor and financial situations.

Coffee does indeed bring the benefits of a strong export crop and foreign trade to this small country. In 2021, coffee tea and spice exports totaled $1.3 billion. This amounts to 26.2% of total exports from Honduras. Coffee contributed the most to Honduras’ trade surplus. This even rose 47.8% since 2020. Although the uptick certainly reflects a rebound from the pandemic, it’s probably also caused by rising coffee consumption. With established trade networks and rising demand, coffee has the power to constitute a tide that lifts many boats (growers) in Honduras.

Challenges and Opportunities - Coffee Plantations in Honduras Begone!

Although most North Americans have probably never thought much about Honduras individually and lack knowledge about it, many challenges persist. Honduras faces sociopolitical and economic challenges. Its infrastructure isn’t as developed as nearby Mexico or Costa Rica. With governmental turmoil and corruption, the average Honduran lives a comparably basic life. Opportunity is scarcer. Drugs and gangs have destroyed communities.

Luckily, coffee consumption is increasing worldwide. Ranking in the top 10 coffee producers in recent years, Honduras’ beans have planted themselves on the world coffee map. Previously, Honduran beans made their way into basic blends as fillers. Nowadays, even single-origin Honduran coffees shine their way onto shelves. Worldwide, over 55 countries import Honduran beans and grounds. A fun fact is that under the new trade agreement, South Korean coffee lovers are already trying Honduras’ coffee products.

Undesirable agricultural setups like coffee plantations in Honduras are fading away. Cooperatives are empowering smallholders. By collaborating and sharing information with other coffee farmers, smallholders join forces against common struggles. Solutions to climactic problems reach remote farmers who belong to cooperatives. Pests and coffee leaf rust can travel from farm to farm. Uniting against pests keeps nearby harvests safer. One such cooperative is the Cooperativa Cafetalera Capucas Limitada (COCAFAL). Since coffee leads as the primary source of financial transactions with other countries, educating, empowering and uniting coffee farmers can help many Hondurans. The implications for the role of coffee in the Honduran economy shouldn’t be underestimated.

The Opposite of Coffee Plantations in Honduras: A Non-Profit Empowering Youth

Subida Coffee Co. produces premium coffee in Santa Rosa de Copán, in the mountains of western Honduras. The greater non-profit operating Subida has a mission of educating, training and empowering youth. Many of the 40 teenage boys attending the high school on the property with the farm and agricultural training center could not continue their education otherwise. Subida offers single-origin dark and medium roasts. Supporting this cause of educating and empowering the next generation of Hondurans is possible with coffee purchased through a subscription model. With fair wages, Rainforest Alliance Certification and an unbeatable cause, Subida Coffee Co. shines. It’s an ethical-purchasing opportunity for North Americans who can’t buy coffee locally. With Subida, Honduras coffee plantations’ former style has morphed into a youth-empowerment operation!

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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