COCAFELOL co-operative Monday 10th February (Part 5)

Breakfast consists of loads of fresh fruit and coffee and I can almost feel my body breathe a sigh of relief after all the processed food of the last 24 hours. A gentle 08.30 start in origin terms and we’re off to visit our first coffee processing plant the co-operative COCAFELOL.

We’re ushered into a reception area half of which is filled with artefacts from when the co-op was started. The first computer, the first gun, that sort of thing. A further cup of coffee (of course) and it was time to don high vis jackets and helmets. This is a first for me and shows that at last someone is worrying about the safety of the workforce.

We are led to where the days coffee harvest is handled, something that only happens at night as the coffee cherries need to be processed as soon as possible after picking to avoid fermentation of the coffee. We walk alongside a patio full of parchment coffee drying in the sun and then come to the mechanical drying section. This is where coffee is dried in large drums when there isn’t sufficient space on the patios. Given the volume of coffee coming through the co-op, they are used extensively.

Next, it’s into the storing facility which is filled floor to ceiling with bags of fully processed parchment coffee. It’s immaculate, everything is carefully labelled to ensure full traceability. The coffee is kept in its parchment state until it is sold. This ensures that it remains as fresh as possible prior to being hulled and sorted. It never ceases to amaze me, one that there is so much coffee in the world and two that every bean in these sacks has been hand-picked. It’s quite an extraordinary achievement.


Next we all squeezed in to a small room and experienced the most in depth talk about soil management that I have ever known. The start reminded me of my chemistry classes at school. We were shown a selection of round filter papers which had been used for soil analysis. The technical term is circular chromatography. A series of brown concentric rings (I say rings but they were a bit more uneven than that) had spread across the paper. Around the side of the paper was written the depth (it started at 20cm.) at which each sample had been taken. The pattern on each paper changed accordingly.


Soil we were told is a combination of organic, biological and mineral materials. To ensure that plant growth is optimised it was necessary for the agronomist to understand this information and then advise the farmers accordingly as to what was required to improve their soil and in turn get better yields.


We were then shown what I can only describe as the most shocking example of the impact of the inappropriate use of chemicals on the soil. The filter paper was bone white. Everything in this sample had been wiped out. Both organic and biological material had been nuked, the soil was effectively dead. It really was that black and white.


I really sense that we’re only just waking up to the importance of soil management and how critical it is to our health and wellbeing. There is though still so much to do and the team at COCAFELOL are very much learning on the job, adjusting and adapting to the results they get from the field. As part of this project they now create 30,000 bags of organic fertilizer a year using a combination of coffee waste, minerals and biology most of which is given to its members for free.  


Time for lunch and then up into the mountains to visit Selin’s farm (a Co-operative member) that goes by the name “Guadeloupe”. As always both journey and setting are extraordinary. The steepness of the road even challenges the power of the 4x4, and the way in which the slope falls away from the side of the road is nerve shredding, so when we stopped and Selin started to crack open a beer I’m not sure that did a lot for our nerves. As George Michael famously wrote “you gotta have faith” so I think the cross hanging from his central mirror was a good omen!


The farm itself is immaculate and a testament to the huge effort that goes into a cup of coffee from ground level upwards.


After the guided tour we were brought to a spectacular waterfall which had easy access from the road. Honduras despite what you read in the papers really does have some special places. As dusk started to fall we headed back to our hotel. By this time we weren’t sure if Selin had drunk 3 or 4 beers and our confidence wasn’t greatly increased when he took a couple of ‘phone call, no hands free here. At one point it seemed he had a beer in one hand a mobile in the other and was using his knees to guide the steering, but that might just have been me.


Our final stop was a bit of a distraction. We pulled over to see some small scale cane sugar production. It’s a really messy business. First the cane is crushed in a pretty vicious looking machine which seemed to jam easily and I wondered how its operator still had any fingers left after all his pushing and prodding. The liquid produced from this crushing process is collected in a bucket and then poured into a huge vat that is heated. This liquid is continuously stirred and aerated and once it has thickened sufficiently is poured into moulds where it sets.


Outside the shed were piles of crushed cane, whilst the heat for the vat came from a really well stoked wood fire that was fed from beneath the building. Just maintaining this fire was a hot and smoky affair. It was however interesting and is another way in which producers are trying to diversify and maintain an income stream.


Finally we got back to our Hotel and ½ an hour later we walked to an outdoor poolside eating area for a BBQ buffet. I think we lasted about an hour before abandoning ship and going to bed still suffering from the jetlag and the bombardment of so much information.    


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