“At the scarce 2.1 hectares of coffee plantation I manage on El Gigante Farm in Arambala, El Salvador over the last three years, I have been continually visited by groups of farmers from several places around the country, and even from Honduras, to learn how I was able to increase production, despite coffee rust and poor soil in this pine grove land. Even the CENTA-Coffee (Ministry of Ag Coffee Program) selected my farm as a site for its farmer field schools. Neighboring farmers have also been inspired by what I have developed, mainly the almost twenty-five of us who are members of the ACDR association.
“You must see how the region has changed. You can’t imagine what it was like when the coffee rust hit hard. But the insistence and efforts of some people, and with support from institutions, we have been able to renovate, and now it is a joy to see how all those new plants are bringing good crops. It is also a pride and joy to have our farms full of infiltration works, ground cover and live barriers, allowing for healthier soil and our water sources to recharge. Technical assistance by CRS and ACUGOLFO has helped us a lot.
“I could tell you about everything I have done on the farm, starting with nurseries with different varieties of grafting, diversification with banana, soil analysis, soil improvers and appropriate fertilization, conservation works, and everything needed for good phytosanitary management and everything that needs to be done on a coffee farm… but better yet, come and see it for yourselves.
“In 2014, I started a new challenge, working post-harvest. First with a small African drying bed to avoid drying on the ground, because they said it loses quality, and I verified that there are gains. Then I expanded the African bed, and in 2016, Blue Harvest helped me build a solar dryer with drawers, which allowed the coffee to dry clean, under controlled temperature. They also counseled me on how to manage it, and the importance of collecting ripe cherries, without any green ones. I learned about Brix degrees, and the optimal point of ripening (24° Brix) and how to use that thing.
My great joy was to see that with giving my crop this kind of care, and the post-harvest process with solar dryers, my coffee got higher marks in the cupping, up to 84-85! in the period from 2015-2016
It was scored as SHG or strict high ground coffee. And to think that not long before that, I did not even know what quality my coffee was. With that revelation, I thought that I had it made, and that this time I could sell it well. The disappointment was to see when the end of the season came and I found no good price. I wound up losing it to a local buyer.
“That is when I started to feel discouraged. Yes, a lot of accomplishments, a lot of recognition, a lot of self-empowerment … but I was not selling anything. And to put in so much effort, and then not sell, it is not worth it, even if you are aware of all the production benefits you achieved.
“Nevertheless, I kept at it during the 2016-2017 season. I took greater pains to follow the post-harvest processes, innovating, trying out honey, natural and semi-washed processing, and I got good cupping marks; up to 86-87 with some of the natural grains. However, to be honest, sometimes I was afraid it would wind up like the previous season.
“Fortunately, the Blue Harvest technicians came on a series of visits, and they brought Adam Klein, a buyer from the United States, who saw first-hand how good conservation practices were being implemented on the farm, and the traceability of the coffee produced with the innovation of uniform grain drying being implemented. It was such a joy when he offered to purchase a micro lot, about 135 kg I had, and he paid a good price. We settled on $190 per quintal, which was much more than the price I had gotten before, and $60 over the market price of the sack at that moment. Besides, the buyer covered costs of threshing and preparing it for export.
“I know I could have asked for even more, but I wanted to secure a long-term business relationship that would make my coffee plantation profitable. You have no idea what it feels like to have your first export and have someone appreciate your coffee.
Some months after the sale, and before the 2017-2018 harvest, because of the rise in production, with Blue Harvest support, I built new African beds, of the tunnel variety.
“I can now say that perseverance and patience can give us good results, but you also have to look for those buyers who can tell the result of good work.”
“Improving the sale price of our coffee really increases excitement about continuing to work in this business,” says Gilberto upon completing his first export.