Another Side of Coffee

Usually I stay in the lab growing, cultivating, reproducing bacteria and fungi. However, recently I had the opportunity to visit the farms. Part of lab work is going outside and seeing results. Did the trichoderma (a bio-fungicide) work? Is the coffee healthier and stronger? So I went on one of these excursions to see how AACRI evaluates the farmers that are part of the Association.

A few months ago, I went to the health center to try and volunteer a part of my time there. What I saw was that people would come to the health center with all sorts of complaints. “My head hurts” “My knees ache”. The doctor would then proceed to do a check-up and eventually would prescribe to the patient some form of medication. No matter what hurt- big, small or even at all- people walked out with some form of drugs. I was struck with this image as we walked around the fields examining coffee plants. In the end, the technician would pull out a pad and prescribe in a similar fashion, what the plants needed. Except that this time it was all organic material.

There is a big problem here in the Intag region where AACRI works: everyone uses chemicals to farm. I saw big fields where the only part that was organic was the coffee farm. The other sections- the tomato, beans, corn and papayas- were all farmed with chemicals. And although in the short term this method might yield results, in the long term this has consequences to a person’s health (breathing in chemicals) and leaves the land without nutrients. The technicians here like to say that if you eat something toxic, you will get sick. It is the same with plants. Eventually the plants themselves get sick and are unable to produce as well. People are trading cash now for no cash later. And really who can blame them? The number one priority is to eat after all, and these fields are their livelihood.

But then I saw yet another part of coffee farming. I live with a host mother who is in charge of both the household and the family farm. I thought that this was normal. Isn’t everyone’s host father a migrant worker? It was not until I went to the fields and saw that the men were the heads of the farm and that the women were in charge of the household: mostly washing and cooking. There is usually one head farmer who hires a bunch of workers to help in the fields. In fact, the technician mostly spoke with the head worker because almost all the men who actually owned the land were away doing business and selling their crops. It was a bit surprising to me that my family was different – with the head of household and the head of the farm being the same, strong woman. Nevertheless, I am so happy to have a host mother who has redefined the way a farm is managed and has control of every aspect of her life here.