Putting coffee by-products to good use is caring for my farm, wallet, and water sources
Mr. Alonzo Benitez is a smallholder coffee farmer with a 2 hectare farm in in the community of Zarzal, in the municipality of San Juan, in the department of Intibuca. His family consists of four (4) members (1 woman and 3 men). Coffee growing is their principal economic activity. It is important to know that in the community of Zarzal, out of 120 families, there are 76 working in this sector, bringing in 63 percent of the income in the community.
Alonzo and his family’s farm is on the banks of the Azacualpa River micro-watershed, at an approximate altitude of 1,100 masl. It is two kilometers from the urban center of the municipality of San Juan Intibuca.
Alonzo sounds nostalgic and enthusiastic when he talks about what it was like on his farm before getting technical advice from Blue Harvest, executed by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and his hopes for his farm. He recalls, “Before Blue Harvest came, my coffee farm was just a mess. Planting was a mess, a patchwork of many coffee trees in one area, and very few in other parts. I had no shade management, and I overused chemicals to control diseases like coffee rust. I fertilized with no soil analysis. The wastewater and coffee pulp just got thrown into the water sources, in this case Azacualpa River. My average yield was 13 quintals per manzana and production costs were $1,000-$1,400 per manzana (0.7 ha).
“The condition of my soil was serious. It is very stony soil with no ground over. I used to use chemicals or hoes for weeding. I did not realize the damage I was doing to the soil; I was poisoning it, and losing all the nutrients when the rains came. The problem was that I did NOT know how to prepare pulp to use as organic material, or how to prepare honey water wastewater-based foliars. What I was doing was throwing them out, and letting the rain wash them away, contaminating the water sources, and in the process throwing my money away.
“I was one of the reluctant farmers. I was against organizing and training, because I did not believe in institutions. On several occasions others had come to lie to me. When the Blue Harvest technicians started visiting my farms, they gave me recommendations on how to improve my coffee, and through training and learning tours, I have been able to apply everything I have learned on my farm. I have seen lots of changes on my farm. But what I like most has been the preparation of foliar fertilizers using honey water as well as making organic fertilizer from coffee pulp. These have helped me improve my coffee yield to 18 qq/manzana (12.6 qq/ha) while not contaminating my water source.
“My farm will produce more coffee with less production costs while not contaminating water sources, because now what used to be waste and contamination, I have turned into compost and foliar fertilizers. In 2015, I didn’t spend any money on buying foliar fertilizers, because I made them from the 600 liters of honey water I collected from the prior coffee harvest. I also learned to treat my coffee pulp with mountain organism and other organic inputs. I thank God for the Blue Harvest technicians who have supported us with technical knowledge, so that we coffee growers in the community of Zarzal no longer pollute the sources of water with the coffee by-products.”