Tag Archives: ACORN Honduras

Coffee Rust Worse Problem for Border and Coffee Drinkers than Reported

10293579_812218472164492_6052867961713463478_oNew Orleans        Sometimes you know it’s bad, but you still haven’t wrapped your mind around the full ripple effects of how bad it might be. Focusing on the immigration crisis for children and families at the Mexico-United States border, I have concentrated on the problems we knew were coming from communities organized by ACORN International, especially in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, which have been among the leading areas that children are fleeing. ACORN Honduras members – and mothers – demonstrated in both cities recently both at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa and at the First Lady’s office in San Pedro Sula, demanding more security from gangs and violence to protect their children.

There’s no question that narco-war and gang violence in Central America is driving an exodus. Another factor, less reported, but arguably significant is not in the cities, but in the economic devastation that is now hitting the rural areas where coffee growing farmers and their cooperatives grow some of the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world. Preparing to interview someone recently returned from the region, a statistic in the Wall Street Journal woke me up to the severity of the crisis when they estimated the economic damage in the region this year as likely $500 million in lost sales and 350,000 jobs lost in the countryside.

Stanley Kuehn is a fellow who hasn’t shaken the natural Texas twang from being raised in Rio Grande City, a poor community along the border where I’ve stopped more than once, and when you ask him where he works there’s an alphabet soup that spills out. The simplest part of it is that he is the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. The longer spiel is that he represents the National Cooperative Business Association and the Cooperative League USA and is also tied into something else called VEGA, the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance. Whew! Trust me though, after interviewing him during Wade’s World on KABF/FM. if you can make it through the alphabet there, the message is vital.

Stanley says that the devastation to the coffee crop is huge. Honduras may be the lightest hit with 25% losses, but Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are all either moving towards 50% losses or already up to 60%. Losing this much of this cash crop will decimate some communities.

The cause? Stanley says it is climate change more than anything else. Coffee plants have gotten weaker with rising temperatures, less shade, abandoned plots without proper pruning, hotter summers and cooler winters, all of which have combined into something unstoppable. The roya fungus originated in Ethiopia some years ago, but has accelerated now. The fix isn’t simple. There are organic pesticides and better pruning methods that can save some trees and will make a difference in the future, but where they have to be cut down and replanted it will mean five or six years until good beans can be replaced. Coffee drinkers will get their fix by paying some higher prices for the good stuff or drinking robusta from Brazil on the cheap end, but many of the farmers and their cooperatives will be decimated in the meantime.

We’re going to have to talk to Stanley more. He’s relocating to Salvador this coming January to go hands-on one-hundred percent. He needs help from farmers or anyone who wants to put their back to the job.

We’re going to see more families from Central America forced to become economic refugees. This will be a bitter brew for years in the region.


Land and Community Struggles in Choloma

San Pedro Sula   Our ACORN International delegation spent our first day visiting with members and leaders of ACORN Honduras in the abutting city of Choloma where we have almost a half-dozen affiliated organizations.  Choloma is an industrial suburb to an industrial city.  The motto on the signs as the bus crossed into Choloma called the city of 70,000 the Cuidad de Maquilas, The City of Factories.   Like so many of the workers, we travelled by bus, by foot, by tut-tut or auto-rickshaw, as they are known in India, standing and sitting in the back of pickups, and crammed into taxis and members cars.  One organizer cracked that the only way we didn’t travel was by horseback, though we certainly strode in their hoof prints on several trails.

            We saw where one of our groups in frustration with the city had paved a steep incline themselves because the area was impassable to their homes in that sector.  Nearby they pointed out a pothole that was large enough to swallow small cars and certainly motorcycles.  Ironically,  the Mayor of Choloma addressed us later at the end of day, partially because he was pitching a new party, Partido Libre, though we could not easily determine if the party’s platform included street paving.

            Interestingly, the organizers and leaders took us to see several new organizing efforts in the countryside abutting Choloma, where we have members that have been squatting on contested lands and in some cases have won title to the lands, so that they and their neighbors can produce yucca, plantains, corn, and other goods for the local markets.  Many wanted to talk about how they could export their goods to get higher prices. The obstacles are staggering unfortunately.   We had been joined by one of the founders and another leader from COMUCAP, our partners from the coffee growing areas of La Paz across the country, so it was easy to talk with everyone about how hard the job of moving containers of coffee has been outside of Honduras.  We admired their struggle and applauded their victories, but exporting plantains and yucca is way past the skill level of a community organization, we were sad to share.

            The issue of land distribution has been a thorny one in Honduras.  One of our groups related a struggle – successful in their case – that had been waged for 21 years.  Another was hopeful that they could succeed where they were squatting, but less than a kilometer away, we could see the small single house development adding more houses, one by one, making it likely that the next time they come up the road, it will be to buy more land, not to purchase plantains.

            It was good to be visiting with organizers in Honduras, Mexico, Canada, and the United States and to await the coming reports, but none of this work is easy.

Choloma Audio Blog