Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beneficio: A Community Driven Coffee Processing Facility

Unión MicroFinanza is working with local farmers to build a wet-processing center (beneficio) that will support small-scale farmers who cannot afford their own processing equipment. Currently, farmers who do not have their own processing equipment are forced to sell their coffee in a semi-processed state. In the past, this has excluded them from being able to sell to higher-priced specialty markets in the U.S. With the installation of this beneficio, any farmer, even a farmer who harvests only a few hundred pounds of coffee, will have the opportunity to sell their coffee at significantly higher prices.

The farmers we work with have been involved in the project since the beginning: giving input and feedback on design (pictured above), working through potential problems, and helping to build the site. Everything from the machinery to the layout to the location of the beneficio have been determined not by UMF, but by the farmers who will be using it.

We have three main goals for the project, which we will explore further in this blog as building continues:

Quality – We want to get the highest quality coffee possible in order to get higher prices for farmers. Every step in the process -- including temperature-regulated water fermenting, post-fermentation soaking tanks, and slow drying times of one to two weeks -- is based off of the highest quality processing that we have encountered worldwide.

Training – The beneficio will be made to be replicable by farmers in the future. This means that there will be no fancy sorting machines or equipment or expensive parts that farmers couldn’t buy themselves in the future. Our goal is to make this much more than just processing equipment—using it not only as a jumping off point for farmers to process their own coffee, but to teach farmers about quality, cupping, processing, organic fertilizer, and protecting the environment.

Environmental Sustainability – Most coffee processing causes high environmental damage. Our beneficio will address these issues by using solar dryers (rather than fossil fuels or wood from forests), vermiculture (making organic fertilizer from coffee pulp, which normally is a large contaminant), water recycling (collecting rain to minimize water usage) and water filtration (rather than dumping environmentally damaging byproducts into nearby water sources). In coming years, we aim to make our beneficio 100% reliant on alternative energy.

In the short term, our goal is to buy 20,000 lbs. of coffee from 20 farmers, beginning Dec. 1, 2011. The design has been finalized and we are set to begin construction

(the picture above shows the site). We will be posting frequently as we progress through building, along with more in-depth looks at different parts of the beneficio and how it will be used to improve quality and prices for small-scale farmers in Honduras. We would like to thank Calvary CRC in Holland, MI for their support in making this beneficio a reality.


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