Thread travels to Chiapas, Mexico to visit with farmers battling La Roya
Traveling with a group of 20 or so other coffee roasters, importers, baristas, and general coffee enthusiasts, we made our way from San Cristobal de las Casas up into the Mayan Highlands to visit with Cooperative Coffee’s trading partner, Yachil Xojobal Chulchan (“New Light in the Sky”). Arriving in Mexico, we had already heard that the farmers in Chiapas had been hit hard by La Roya (pictured below), a coffee rust fungus that is devastating coffee crops throughout Central and South America. The morning was grim as we saw first-hand just how dire the situation had become for coffee cooperatives like Yachil.
Our first stop on the trip was to the farm of Defarino Ortiz Perez in the community of Polho. Defarino and his father have about 2 hectares of land, and have been growing coffee for 16 years. After a reduced harvest last year, the coffee crop has been completely wiped out by La Roya and they have been unable to harvest any coffee this season. La Roya causes the leaves of the coffee plant to fall off, without the leaves the coffee cherries are unable to ripen. The picture below illustrates just how empty the farm is – while a healthy coffee farm would be filled with lush, full plants, this one was starkly empty. Defarino and other members of Yachil explained that this was the case for many farmers. Yachil’s production has diminished by more than 50%. Last year they exported 12 containers of coffee, and this year they’ll only be exporting 4 containers.
Next we hiked higher into the highlands, where we stopped at the farm of Javier Ruiz Hernandez, who had a parcel full of healthy plants. Unlike the previous farm, this one was full of carnica coffee, a variety that has proven to be more resistent to La Roya. However we noticed that many of his plants had both flowers and cherries on them at the same time, which the farmers explained was unusual. The unpredictable weather patterns, due to climate change, was impacting the flowering and budding times of the coffee plants. It’s unclear how this will affect their seasonal production.
In response to diminished harvests, Yachil has begun diversifying their crops to include lemongrass production (pictured below). They’ll be selling the lemongrass for tea domestically as well as internationally. They already have 50 producers throughout the cooperative growing lemongrass. They hope this lemongrass tea might provide additional income in light of La Roya epidemic and resulting loss of income from coffee. To combat La Roya and the impacts of climate change, other farmers are working on cultivating resistant varieties of coffee, such as carnica, as well as developing microbiotic fumigation techniques. Next we head to neighboring cooperative, Maya Vinic, our oldest trading partner, to check in on how they are doing.
Check out more pictures here.