Unión MicroFinanza
June 2011
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A Cup of Excellence
UMF intern Kyle Barkett is from Muskegon, MI pursuing a degree in Business and Economics at Wheaton College. He joined UMF this summer because of his interests in finance, development work and poverty relief. The following tells not only his experience, but also the potential that Honduran coffee farmers have to grow top quality specialty coffee.

To wrap up the end of my first week in Honduras as a UMF intern, Patrick Hughes and I woke up at 4AM to travel to the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The purpose of our long journey was to attend the Honduran National Cup of Excellence Competition. This is an annual coffee competition where coffee farmers compete nationally to have their coffee bought at higher prices. Coffees that place in the national competition get auctioned off, and as a coffee farmer’s place in the competition rises so does the sales price of his coffee. Coffee farmers qualify by producing at least 4,000 lbs. of a single varietal of coffee and entering it to be judged by international coffee buyers. Last year’s winner sold for $22 a pound and others that placed were auctioned at prices from $6-13 per pound. Even though I personally do not drink much coffee, attending this event was fascinating. Humble rural farmers from all over the country gathered in an urban setting for their coffees to be judged. These farmers are able to meet international buyers and be recognized for the quality of their coffee. While I sat back and watched all this unfold, Patrick was able to do some awesome networking, meeting the best coffee farmers in the nation, international coffee buyers, IHCAFE engineers, and other Hondurans involved in specialty coffee.

The awards ceremony was held in a very lavish conference center where one of the Vice Presidents of Honduras, the President of the National Coffee Fund and other major figures in Honduran coffee handed out the awards. At this important event one would expect wealthy businessmen with thousands of acres of coffee to compete, but in reality the competitors were rural farmers with small amounts of land. These farmers from very rural parts of Honduras had traveled a very long way to come to the competition. It was truly amazing to see these farmers come up on stage to be acknowledged and applauded by some of the most high-end and important people in the nation. This could be the only time in these farmers’ lives they are regarded with such high esteem. It took many farmers a while to adjust to the acclaim because they are not used to any acknowledgment. These farmers have toiled over their land in extremely high altitudes in order to produce this quality coffee, and I hope they continue to be recognized in this fashion for their accomplishments.

This competition shows the value of producing quality coffee, not just quantity. Most coffee farmers are not concerned about the quality of their coffee because local intermediaries buy all coffees at the same price no matter what. These intermediaries just mix all the coffee together and in this process all quality is lost. If quality is encouraged, Honduran farmers and driers will improve their practices to preserve and improve quality, and Honduran coffee will be associated with quality.

By Kyle Barkett

Mules, Horses and 4WD Trucks
The months of May and June are always very busy for the organization. From banquets and the distribution of microloans to coffee shipments and the arrival of interns, these months set the tone for the year. Here is a summary of what is happening.

The UMF Vision Banquet: By all accounts the first annual UMF Vision Banquet held on May 14 was a tremendous success. The banquet consisted of an authentic Honduran meal and a silent auction of Honduran goods and other items such as a private jet trip to Mackinac Island.

We thank everyone who attended and supported the organization at this event. In all, the event raised $7301!

Microloan Distribution: Microloans are being distributed to farmers as we speak. The first round of loans was in the form of 95,000 pounds of fertilizer and 900 pounds of seeds. As of Monday, 70,000 pounds had been distributed as farmers came by mule, horse, truck and one semi-truck to pick it up. We are excited to give you a full report in next month's newsletter.

Microloan Coffee Shipment: This year's shipment of coffee is on its way to the United States. Exactly 50,000 lbs. have been purchased and are being processed as we speak. This is the first shipment of its kind ever to leave La Unión. Occupying a full shipping container, it will include coffee from 18 different producers. The shipment is made up of microlots, which means that farmers were paid based on quality and that you can purchase great coffee from a specific farmer. If you thought that Microloan Coffee was great before, this will knock your socks off!

Internships: Summer interns arrived in Honduras in May. We welcome these bright, zealous and passionate students. We are excited for the innovations and ideas they will bring to UMF. Make sure to read their series of blog posts to learn more about them, loan distribution and coffee shipment. We are letting them tell the story firsthand.

The Magic of Fertilizer
Several months ago I planted some flowers right next to our house and was disappointed with their slow and stunted growth. One plant was quicker to bloom than the others but the bulb was much smaller than I had imagined it would be. I wondered what was happening and if there was anything I would be able to do to help these plants recover and achieve their full potential.

Fortunately, friend and fellow UMF staff member Martir was nearby and told me that the soil I had planted the flowers in lacked the necessary nutrients. In fact, there was a name I now forget that he used to refer to this type of soil. Apparently, this nutrient-less soil was common in the area. He advised me that I should add some fertilizer at the base of each plant and to water them afterwards so that the nutrients could begin reaching the roots.

Using some organic compost Gilberto had been producing below his chicken coop, I fertilized each plant and ensured the soil received a sufficient supply of water. Several days later, the change in my garden was obvious. My flowers began to grow larger bases with larger leaves than the other plant that was quick to bloom. It was exciting to watch and I was impressed with what the little fertilizer I had added was able to achieve. It made me think about what Unión MicroFinanza does for the small farmers throughout the villages of La Unión.

For those who follow what we do, it is common knowledge that Unión MicroFinanza provides microloans mostly in the form of fertilizer. A variety of fertilizers are provided to coffee, bean, and corn producers. Typically bean and corn producers receive two kinds of fertilizers, one with an NPK ratio of 12-24-12, and another nitrogen-rich fertilizer known as Urea. As I was gardening, it was interesting to think of my own garden experiences and how it related to many of our clients who use these microloans to produce basic grains.

José Laris, of Los Planes, is one of our producers who uses his loan to fertilize his corn field. It’s a small field, just one fourth of a manzana, but with the fertilizer he is able to harvest more than enough for his family to last until the next harvest. Without the fertilizer, Laris would be unable to provide all of the corn his family consumes and would have to look elsewhere to purchase corn, a much more expensive option. With a loan from Unión MicroFinanza he was able to reap the most out of his small corn plot and in doing so, he saved lots of money. By producing a small amount of coffee in the winter, he is more than able to repay the loan and is left in a better position than had he not received the fertilizer.

His corn field produced roughly 1,800 pounds of corn which he stored in sacks behind his house. This amount is plenty for his wife and two kids. José Laris lives with his wife, María Sandra, his 14-year-old son Fredi, and 10-year-old daughter Cindy. The two of them attend school and when possible, Fredi helps out his father in the field. José Laris believes in a balance between education and labor. He constantly demonstrates to his son the value of hard work. Laris has been an excellent client; he has repaid last year’s loan in full, and is looking forward to remaining with Unión MicroFinanza for the coming harvest.

Returning full circle, it’s really amazing what fertilizer can do for a field, and subsequently, what it can mean for a family. Unión MicroFinanza loans have the potential to save basic grain farmers money by maximizing yield and reducing the need to buy basic grains elsewhere. With the saved money, farmers can invest more in their families and more in future harvests.

By Daniel Schwartz

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