In 2016, Higher Grounds has had the honor of hosting our partner farmer Jose Perez Vasquez of the Maya Vinic cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico--the very co-op that inspired us to start Higher Grounds--for an extended visit. Jose’s extended visa allows him to learn about the U.S. specialty coffee market, including barista and communications training, and share his perspectives with those who have enjoyed coffee from his region for years. This blog is part of a series highlighting Jose’s knowledge and perspectives as a coffee farmer as well as his experiences during this roaster/grower exchange.
How much does it actually cost to grow organic coffee in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico? Jose, our long time friend and co-founder of Maya Vinic, explains how much it costs to cultivate organic coffee in Chiapas.
To prepare a hectare (2.47 acres) of land for coffee cultivation, there are four steps required, all with separate costs:
Weeding, typically with a machete, and cleaning the underbrush: $1600 pesos ($85.58 USD)
Measuring distances between plants: $3000 pesos ($159.48 USD)
Digging the holes: $800 pesos (USD $42.53)
Planting the coffee: $3000 pesos ($159.48 USD)
On each hectare of land, we can grow 2000 coffee plants. It costs 5 pesos per cubic unit, for a total of $10,000 pesos ($531.60 USD). Depending on the shade available in that area, we generally weed four times per year at a cost of $1600 per cleaning ($85.58 USD) or $6400 annually ($340.22 USD), and this takes place for three consecutive years [until the coffee plants begin bearing fruit]. If there is quite a bit of shade, we can weed less.
Once the plants are producing coffee, they offer the best yield from years 5-12, a long as they are properly maintained and organic fertilizer and compost, including coffee pulp, are applied. We also apply other nutrients for good quality and health of the plants. When well worked, we can yield between 1200-1500 kilos (2645-3310 pounds) per hectare. The price per kilo paid last year (2015) was $49 pesos ($2.60 USD).
Beekeeping is another source of income for our cooperative. We work an average of 40-50 bee boxes per producer. However, we do not today have that many due to lack of space for installing the apiary and the cost of one box hive, which is between $1000-1200 pesos ($53-64 USD).
We are always looking for additional sources of income to support our families. We have steady demand for our honey from customers abroad, and we are excited to expand our product into more international markets. Ideally we could purchase more land on which to install additional hives. Last year we were paid $45 pesos ($2.40 USD) per kilo, and this good price encourages us to remain producers of honey. However, we are in need of additional equipment for extracting honey as well as the land on which to expand cultivation of both coffee and honey.
We also need more space to plant corn and beans that are the basics for daily consumption. Having the land is a fortress and a relief for our children. By the natural wealth in this area--water, forests, variety of trees--much serves our humanity. We ourselves have to fight to live in a better world, and have bread every day, with our family and community in which we have engaged in a struggle to defend our rights as indigenous peoples. We have sought a way to fight peacefully, nonviolently, but in order to do that, we need good health, good nutrition, and good relationships between brothers.
*Currency conversions are based on the Sept. 9, 2016 exchange rate: 18.7 pesos = 1 dollar = 0.89 Euros.