Female Coffee Producers Achieve Commercial Independence
A few months into the coffee harvest of 2013, 39 female coffee producers were on the verge of losing control of their crop, being forced to sell to intermediaries. Realizing their long-term sustainability depended on commercial independence, the women formed the Association Free Producers of Marcala (APROLMA) to sell under their own brand.
"At first the women did not believe, but together we were able to find de-pulping, drying, and sorting services and handle the entire process ourselves,” said member Gladix Hernández. “A customer in Germany believed in us and placed an order that we filled under the license of an export company.”
Today, there are 69 members producing certified organic coffee on 120 hectares. The group yields an average of 36 quintales per manazna, well above the national average of 23.2 quintales. Working with ACS-USAID since 2016, the group has improved their efficiency and quality through the application of good agricultural practices. They learned about best practices such as seedling selection, pruning, and shade regulation, leading to yield increases of around 30 percent across the group. Many of the women have also diversified into vegetable production, taking advantage of the drip irrigation system ACS helped install.
In addition to co-investing in the irrigation system, the women of APROLMA invested in six solar dryers to improve product quality. “Thanks to the solar dryers, our coffee has better quality – large batches have scores of 84 and our smaller batch specialty coffee reached 89 points,” explained member Nidia Molina.
For Maria Urquía, diversification is key: "In Mescalito, with support from ACS-USAID, we have a group mesh house for vegetables and fruit trees. We cannot depend on coffee alone.”
Not only are the women producing higher yields at better quality, but they are also more resilient to price shocks. Their specialty coffee has not been impacted by low international prices; they are earning 50 percent above market price for a 43 percent return on investment. They also employ dozens of part-time workers in harvesting, classification, toasting, and facilitating exports. They have been steadily exporting roasted coffee to Germany since 2016.
"Every year we dreamed of new goals, in 2013 we exported 750 quintales and last year we reached 5,470," said Gladix.