COOMPROCOM (Cooperativa Multisectorial de Productores de Café Orgánico de Matagalpa) is a coffee co-operative located in central Nicaragua.
The COOMPROCOM coffee co-operative has members located in 16 communities spread across four regions of the Matagalpa region in central Nicaragua. The furthest, Rancho Grande, is one of the county’s poorest regions.
For four or five months between harvests, known as the ‘thin season’, farmers have no income and some rely on food programmes to feed their children. Many communities also suffer severe water shortages. High levels of unemployment and poverty in the area have forced large numbers to migrate to Costa Rica or El Salvador in search of work, some illegally crossing into the United States.
The co-operative was set up by 52 coffee farmers in 2002 to improve their incomes by accessing the organic market and building a sustainable business. Membership has grown to 251, including 30 women, and employment is provided for more than 300 farm workers.
Most members grow coffee on 5 hectares or less and, where possible, also grow fruit and vegetables or keep livestock to feed their families and increase incomes. The farms are located at altitudes between 600m and 1,100m. The lower altitudes are less suitable for coffee production so productivity and incomes are 30% lower. The large distances between the groups create communication and logistical difficulties such as delivering technical assistance,
Primary washing and drying processes are carried out on the farm. The co-op then collects the coffee and contracts out the final processing and export services. It markets the coffee itself and has built a cupping laboratory to analyse and improve coffee quality to meet buyers’ requirements.
The co-op’s main organic buyer, Taylors of Harrogate, encouraged them to become Fairtrade certified to increase sales, access new markets and strengthen the organisation. This was achieved in 2004 and now 90% of sales are to the Fairtrade market – 60% to Europe, 40% to the US.
Fairtrade certification has made it easier for COOMPROCOM to access credit from organisations like Root Capital, a non-profit fund that lends capital to small agricultural businesses. The co-op can provide Fairtrade sales contracts as evidence that it is creditworthy and able to repay loans, while assets such as its new offices, financed by Fairtrade sales, provide further collateral.
COOMPROCOM is paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price of US$1.40 a pound for Fairtrade sales, or the market price if higher, with an additional organic premium of 30 cents a pound. As a result farmers’ incomes have increased by approximately 30% since Fairtrade certification.
The co-op also receives the Fairtrade Premium of 20 cents a pound to invest in business development and community improvements. They are investing it in social programmes and business and agricultural training and support which, along with access to a stable market, reassure younger farmers that coffee is a sustainable business. A quarter of the premium must be invested in productivity and quality improvement projects, to increase incomes and improve competitiveness with other coffees. A wide range of projects have been implemented:
- Experimental plots set up to test and improve agricultural practices.
- Quality improvement programme providing technical assistance and subsidised fertilisers and pesticides – productivity has tripled for some farmers.
- Training and technical assistance to control pests and disease.
- The purchase of modern on-farm coffee processing equipment has made processing much quicker, saving time and money. It produces higher quality coffee that meets market requirements and commands higher prices.
- Farm renovation – replanting with coffee varieties that are more resistant to impacts of climate change and la roya, the leaf rust epidemic which could potentially affect 40% of production by 2014.
- Reforestation – tree planting programme including coffee shade trees, funding matched by Taylors.
Other premium projects:
- Construction of new co-op offices in Matagalpa city with cupping laboratory and storage facilities.
- Opening a savings account – has enabled the co-op to fund international business trips.
- Construction of community stores for farmers to store coffee for collection, saving travel time and costs.
- Installation of community and farm water tanks or wells to combat severe water shortages and supply drinking water (some with piped water) and irrigation systems.
- Construction of health clinic; provision of school equipment and sports facilities; funeral insurance scheme.
- Crop diversification programmes to increase incomes and improve diets and child nutrition e.g. pomegranates, oranges, cows for milk.
- Food security programme to provide poorer members with seeds to grow their own beans, corn, rice and tomatoes during the ‘thin months’.
- Improvements to farmers’ houses e.g. new roofs.
- Construction of bathing, toilet and laundry facilities for poorer communities.
- Revolving loans fund at 1% interest to buy food, pay school fees etc.
- Training courses for farmers’ children to explain the co-ops economic strategies, to encourage them to stay in coffee production rather than migrating.