November 14, 2019
4 Minute Read
Jose Pastor HuertaIn 2013 Caravela began its operations in Nicaragua with the goal of supporting specialty coffee development in the country. Over time, we have built up a 30-person team, which today is wholly Nicaraguan. Many coffee producers were initially skeptical about Caravela due to what was, at the time, a highly innovative focus: quality, instead of volume. This was a radical approach compared to what was traditionally done in Nicaragua, requiring significant changes and the embracing of new practices. Also, Nicaragua is a country that has long history of civil war and political conflict. The government has little structure and interest dedicated to developing the coffee sector. This has understandably resulted in coffee producers regarding unknown entities warily; winning their confidence has taken time. However, we have managed to gain this trust through an empathetic approach and the hard proof of genuine results, showing that the company indeed added value for coffee producers.
PECA Coordinator Nicaragua
Replicating the model
The Caravela model could not simply be transposed in Nicaragua; it needed to be modified and adapted to the culture of coffee there. As selling wet coffee was the norm, it required us to create our own drying stations, the biggest of their kind in the world. We started off in Nicaragua with the introduction of PECA (our technical agricultural program) as the main base of development for the producers. The program began in Nueva Segovia, an area characterized by producers that were interested in certifications. Producers there aspired to improve the social and environmental impact of their farms and the quality of the coffee that they were producing and in doing so, their incomes. Initially we worked with small- to medium-scale producers who believed in our ethos and they became the pioneers by adapting to this new model off selling coffee. This was an enriching process for these producers and for the company. The higher prices (well above the international market price) and more involved training for specialty coffee production resulted in these producers improving their incomes and profitability. Also, the assistance of our PECA team, helping hand in hand with the producer during harvest and post-harvest stages, demonstrated a real commitment on the part of Caravela to encourage growth and development within the industry.
This type of improvement requires change from the producer themselves. From the outset the emphasis was on good agricultural processes and practices. Coffee’s quality is obtained right from the plot, a result of soil, climate, solar intensity, and farm management. One way to maintain high quality is to carry out good practices during the post-harvest processing. Things that go wrong at these moments will be reflected by a deterioration in quality. Through their continued improvement, Nicaraguan coffee producers have shown their commitment to the production of specialty coffee. Some more specific examples are as follows:
1. Fermentation time
An important outcome of our work in Nicaragua has been the increase in fermentation times. Producers would traditionally wash their coffee as quickly as possible, followed by fermentation times around 12 to 18 hours on average, depending on the climate. Now producers have, on average, increased these durations to between 24-48 hours, yielding salient shifts in profile complexity and cup quality.
2. Drying times
Producers have implemented changes not just on their parcels, but also regarding the type of drying that the coffee receives. Coffee dried slowly beneath shaded African beds can take up to 15-20 days depending on the climate, compared to the more rapid four- or five-day drying time that would take place on traditional uncovered concrete patios. In a country where it was common that coffee producers didn’t even dry their own coffee (instead selling their parchment wet), this change in mentality has been a significant shift.
The introduction of Caravela’s drying stations meant that there was a change in the way coffee was traditionally processed and it allowed us to establish a standard of drying in Nicaragua that was rare up until then, and one which allowed us to guarantee consistency and durability of the coffee. By 2019 Caravela had two drying facilities: “La Estrella” in Ocotal with a capacity of 14,400 m2 of space and “La Concordia” in Jinotega with 9,600 m2 of space. Currently we are also working towards sharing our drying knowledge with producers, so they start having more control over this process, should they choose it.
Possessing all the data for each lot that enters the drying facility (physical analysis, cupping score, etc.) allows us to offer full traceability. It allows us to share reliable information with our clients at destination as well as our producer partners, helping them understand the areas where great results have been achieved and allowing producers to identify areas where they can improve. It also contributes to the creation of a transparent chain where all players are well informed and can therefore make better decisions: in terms of buying for roasters and in terms of allocating investment for producers.
Being an agronomist and PECA coordinator in Nicaragua, I have seen and lived through harvest after harvest and I have witnessed the change in terms of producers’ interest in specialty coffee. In 2013 there were only eight producers working with us in Dipilto in Nueva Segovia; now we work with more than 126 farmers in Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, and Madriz. Having the PECA team involved with cuppings and quality analysis has allowed the agronomists to understand what makes a good or bad coffee and they can apply this knowledge and provide producers with recommendation based on this. This has not only helped the individual producers in question, but it has also resulted in positive professional growth within the coffee sector. Over the last five years Caravela has been an integral part of the evolution taking place in Nicaragua. We’ve seen the transition from conventional to specialty coffee, and we have seen the improved infrastructures and improved beneficio machinery. Most important, we’ve witnessed the improved quality of life and income through the adoption of a model that unequivocally puts producers first.
Jose Pastor Huerta hails from Jinotega, Nicaragua. Since childhood, he dreamed of becoming an agricultural engineer, as Jose comes from a coffee growing family in Nicaragua and has always felt close to the land. He obtained his agricultural engineering degree after receiving a scholarship from Fundación Las Brumas for his academic excellence in high school. Since then, Jose has worked with farms and communities, educating them on best agronomical practices, protecting the environment, implementing reforestation plans, and collaborating with NGOs to mitigate natural disaster risks. He has worked at Caravela since 2013, building relationships with specialty coffee growers, offering them technical assistance, and sharing tools to produce better coffee in a sustainable way.