Finca Las Glorias
Imagine getting paid twenty lempiras for every gallon of coffee seeds collected. That is equivalent to about one dollar U.S. and is what Honduran seasonal employees make per gallon of seeds picked. Coffee ranks as the top agricultural product in Honduras, and about fifteen-twenty different varieties are grown. Unlike many other countries that have several large producers of coffee, Honduras has a lot of little plantations and farms. One farm I recently visited is Finca Las Glorias. This farm is a twenty year old farm that contains about 420,000 square meters, while 350,000 square meters of that is in production. The farm is 700 meters above sea level and is located along the shore of beautiful Lake Yojoa.
Finca Las Glorias is practicing agroforestry techniques to reap ecological and economical benefits. Agroforestry is a land use system that involves using a mixture of agriculture, forestry, horticulture, and animal management to diversify the ecosystem. Coffee is grown best under the shade while yet higher production is gained by sun grown coffee. Sun grown coffee is more expensive to maintain, uses more chemicals, and has smaller beans. Therefore, many people are coming back to shade grown coffee using fast growing trees. Natural trees such as guava, banana, orange, avocado, and other nitrogen fixing trees are being used for shade and provide habitat for migrating birds. Other precious woods that are being used are mahogany, Spanish cedar, pine, and ceiba. These trees produce valuable lumber and the ceiba trees are hollow on the inside and are used for canoe building. By utilizing precious woods as well as fruiting trees, plantation owners can generate revenue year round.
The production of coffee is Finca Las Glorias' main goal and improvements in management techniques have increased coffee production. Management problems and decisions such as nutrient deficiency, fungus, insect, pH, and soil conditioning come up readily. The soil at Finca Las Glorias has a ph of around five and had a volcanic/clayey soil. The soils are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Fungus attacks are common on coffee plantations and Gaspar Pineda, general manager of Finca Las Glorias combats this problem by using biological and chemical warfare.
Another management decision is how to plant coffee. Coffee plants are planted between one to one and half meters apart and there are about three thousand plants per hectare. Every eight to ten years the coffee trees are cut down because they stop producing coffee beans. Every part of the coffee tree is used and after being cut for the final time, local people use the cut trees for firewood. This can only be done two times until new plants have to be planted, therefore it takes seven to eight years for coffee to produce fruit. To speed up this process seeds are planted in small bags, and are then grafted onto the cut coffee stumps to produce fruit much quicker, possibly the next year. Usually women from Guatemala are hired to graft the newly grown coffee plants on the stumps. Grafting is a very difficult and women seem to have the delicate hands and skills for the job. Without correct management decisions Finca Las Glorias would not have the production and success it has attained.
The Ethiopian coffee trees that were originally used grew to twenty meters or more and the collecting of seed from these trees was very difficult. Geneticists genetically altered the trees and produced a shorter variety of tree that could be easily picked. The picking is done by hand and not by machine. In the warmer parts of Honduras the coffee tends to ripen faster and the harvest time ends in December. During the rest of the year pruning and fertilizing takes place to increase yield. In the colder regions of the country the coffee ripens much slower and the harvesting can last through March. From October through December seasonal workers come from the surrounding communities daily to pick beans. The beans are picked from the middle of the tree and branches. Good seeds are oval with a straight line of suture while bad seed has curvy sutures. The beans are picked when yellow to red and sometimes picked when green and left to ripen in a bag until processing. Production of non-processed coffee beans at Finca Las Glorias is about seven thousand pounds per .7 hectares.
Several levels of flowing water accomplish coffee bean processing at Finca Las Glorias as well as a hand turned peel remover. This processing of coffee beans uses lots of water since clean water is required for each step in processing. In the future, at Finca Las Glorias they are going to implement a new more ecological advanced machine that will use eighty-five percent less water. Until then, they have to use the old method of processing. First the beans are dumped into a tub of water to determine the good seed and the bad seed. During this test the good seed sinks and the bad seed floats at the surface. The good seed is then removed and the peels are taken off by machine. The peels are later used for composting organic matter into the soil. Third, the seeds are left over night to soak and this expands the fleshy part of the seed, which can easily be removed the next morning. Last, the seeds are sold by weight. For a one hundred-pound bag the price will be equivalent to a fifty-pound bag price because of water weight. The buyers take the seeds and remove the second peel which is a papery thin shell covering the bean. After the beans are dried they are ready for export. The coffee is now called golden coffee because of the color of the beans. The beans are ready to be roasted and brewed. Honduran coffee is exported all over the world but the majority of the coffee goes to Guatemala and Germany. The most amazing part of coffee production is that most of the money made from coffee is made after the coffee leaves the plantation. Neither the plantation nor the workers get much of the entire circle of revenue generated from the coffee.
Sustainable agroforestry sets Finca Las Glorias apart from other plantations. Everything that is produced at the plantation is used to its fullest extent and nothing is wasted. Opportunities are plentiful at Finca Las Glorias and the accommodations are quite nice to. Finca Las Glorias has balanced the fine line of diversifying its ecotourism opportunities, as well as agricultural opportunities. For the future I hope that Finca Las Glorias will continue down the road of success and will be a model for other plantations into the millenium.