Honduras can easily hold its own against major coffee producers when it comes to quality. We explain how the Hondurans have been able to keep the disease known as “coffee rust” at bay, and why speciality coffee scouts keep coming back to this Central American country in their search for the best Arabica coffees.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central America, and its roughly 8 million inhabitants, the country itself and the country’s reputation all suffer greatly as a result of high crime rates and drug trafficking. But if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find hidden treasures – breathtaking natural scenery, impressive and colourful wildlife, warm-hearted and hospitable people, and – what is particularly important to us – first-class Arabica coffee.
Coffee as a vital source of income
Coffee is Honduras’ largest export, and almost a third of the Honduran population works in the coffee industry. For the Hondurans, coffee is their livelihood, and it brings a great deal of foreign currency into the country which is vital for the national economy. This means that many people are affected when business doesn’t go as well as it should, often due to devastating fungal infections which results in a loss of yield. But more about that later.
While Hondurans themselves currently drink a lot less coffee than other major coffee exporters such as Brazil, consumption within the country has nevertheless been growing steadily. Younger residents in particular enjoy an iced coffee from time to time, and more and more coffee bars are popping up in the cities, at petrol stations, in shopping centres and even in hospitals. The fact that most of these locations also offer free Internet is helping to attract coffee drinkers.
A different kind of rust
Unfortunately, Hondurans regularly have to deal with the impact of coffee rust, a fast-spreading fungus that infects the leaves of coffee plants. The build-up of spores turns the leaves a reddish-brown colour (hence the name), and the affected leaves die off, leaving the coffee cherries without sufficient nutrients. Affected plants are generally cut back all the way to the stump.
Several years ago Honduras fell victim to a coffee rust plague during which thousands of farmers lost at least half of their harvests, and some losing their crops completely. Add to this the cost of starting over, sometimes from scratch, which many families simply cannot afford or can only cover by going into debt. National and international organisations are working to combat coffee rust by providing training and helping farmers to rebuild their plantations. The focus is also increasingly being placed on rust-resistant coffee varieties that have a better chance against this uninvited guest.
Intermediaries: friend or foe?
In addition to the general price fluctuations which every coffee exporter is exposed to, farmers in Honduras are also subject to the influence of intermediaries. Often, prices are reduced or are forced down for obscure reasons, and farmers receive a great deal less money for their crops than they should as a result. Less turnover also means fewer funds for planting and maintaining the plantations, which leads to a reduction in both quality and quantity.
It is therefore important to train coffee producers in new cultivation and processing methods so they can get the best out of every square metre of their plantations. It is also important to support cooperation between farmers, and to establish central processing facilities. Our La Laguna sustainability project is based on these principles, and allows us to provide coffee producers with targeted support on the ground.
Investing in the future
Given the importance of coffee for the Honduran economy, there is a wide range of domestic organisations that support coffee cultivation in a variety of ways. One of these organisations is IHCAFE (Instituto Hondureño del Café), which was privatised as a non-profit organisation in 2000, enabling it to react more quickly to the needs of the coffee sector. IHCAFE defines guidelines for the entire value chain that require exporters to declare the goods they acquire and export, for example. If they fail to do so, the goods cannot be exported.
A tip for speciality coffee scouts
At the “Cup of Excellence”, which is organised by IHCAFE, a selection of speciality coffees are tasted in professional cuppings, and the best coffees are then auctioned electronically worldwide. This competition helps to create new niche markets. Honduras is becoming a popular destination for speciality coffee scouts, and demand for premium Arabica coffee is continually growing, which encourages producers to experiment and plant more of these special varieties.
Honduran coffee features a harmonious balance between acidity and body, with notes that range from nutty to citrus. Speciality coffees can contain aromas of tropical fruits, high acidity and a creamy texture. For our Café Royal coffees, we purchase exclusively strictly high grown green coffee, which is cultivated at an altitude of over 1,000 metres above sea level and very carefully processed.
Despite the considerable challenges posed by coffee rust, climate conditions and fluctuating coffee prices, Honduras is poised to continue competing against its strong rivals in the coffee industry – thanks to a greater number of speciality coffees, better trained coffee farmers and a clearer organisational structure.