Back to Chiapas

I arrived in Chiapas, Mexico yesterday– a place that feels like a second home. Since 1997 I have come here almost every year to visit and– since 2000– to work with coffee farmers in the highlands surrounding the beautiful colonial city San Cristobal de las Casas. When I first arrived some three years after the Zapatista uprising the city was tense with an overbearing military presence that felt stifling. Over the years the military presence has retracted to other parts of the state and the city has slowly transformed into a very tourist-friendly destination with scores of restaurants, cafes, ambar shops, eco-tour outfits, etc. Although some who were in and around the Zapatista movement back in the day feel the city has lost its way, I like its eclectic mix of colonial architecture, indigenous Mayan culture, spirit of social activism, and crusty tourist sensibility.

The main reason I am here is to touch base with Maya Vinic and Yachil Xolobal Chulchan– the two coffee farmer co-ops that we at Just Coffee have worked with the longest. If you know our history, you know that we would not be in the coffee business without Yachil gently pressuring us to buy a roaster and purchase their coffee. And you also might remember that Maya Vinic was the first co-op we roasted and whose coffee we helped bring into our larger network to roast on a regular basis. As we have discussed over the past two years, the coffee fungus “Roya” or “Coffee Rust” has ravaged the farms of many of our partners in Central America and has now attacked the coffee plants of Maya Vinic and Yachil. Because of the disease the farmers in the highlands of Chiapas have seen a significant decline in their 2013/2014 harvest and are now trying to fight the fungus. When I was last here in January 2014 the rust had just made its initial appearance, but had not yet taken its toll. While I am here I hope to see its affects and understand better the strategies these co-ops and farmers are using to fight the rust and recover their crops as well as to get by during the long recovery period.

As we have seen with Las Marias in El Salvador and Las Diosas in Nicaragua, the speed of which the disease takes over is one of the things that makes it so dangerous for farmers. In places like Chiapas– where there are not many alternatives here to participating in the cash economy– Roya can be devastating to the farmers and their families who already struggle to satisfy their basic needs. In the next few days I will be posting updates, stories, and photos to give you a sense of what the situation is here in the highlands of Chiapas as well as what farmers are doing to recover from Coffee Rust/Roya and what resources they will need to do so.

Thanks for reading!