Nicaragua Study Tour: Managua to Matagalpa
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D
Bridgewater State College
Day 5: January 7, 2006
|Introductory talk by CECOCAFEN, the Organization
of Northern Coffee Cooperatives, followed by travel to the
coffee-growing community of La Corona, a farm tour, and introduction to
|We awoke this morning to
see just what a beautiful place our hotel was, overlooking the city of
Matagalpa. The views from our room (above) included both pleasing
vistas and reminders that not all were so privileged.
We all understood the deep irony of our plush accomodations, given our
goal of understanding the reality of poverty among coffee farmers. We
also knew that we were about to embark on two days of life without our
usual creature comforts, and knowing that we would be coming back to
this hotel did help to put the group at ease.
In reality, as readers will soon see, the hardships of the next two
days were far smaller than the rewards of getting to know the people
and the land of "the campo."
offices also afford a nice view of the city of Matagalpa,
which our students enjoyed. Inside the office, we enjoyed a very
informative talk by Eddy, a top financial officer of the cooperative.
Eddy has taught in Brazil, and speaks enough Portuguese to recognize
that Brooks (the student shown talking to Eddy) and I both speak
Portuguese better than we speak Spanish!
From Matagalpa, we journeyed to the community of La Corona, which is in
the San Ramon area east of the city. As we waited for lunch
preparations, Brandon, Casey, and Alex showed that they were good
students -- that is, they went along with their professor's foolish
suggestion to act like three monkeys on top of the bus (left photo). In
the right photo, they are doing what this entire group enjoyed doing
throughout the trip -- getting to know some kids.
After a very nice lunch and getting to know some of the folks at
Mauricio's house, we visited coffee fields for the first time -- an
area of shade-grown coffee immediately behind the house where we had
eaten. This allowed us to start learning about the cultivation of the
plant. A dog is shown leading the way. Notice that the "aisles" between
rows of trees are covered with large banana leaves. This both helps to
restore nutrients to the soil and helps the farmers to walk in what
might be very muddy conditions. These are just a couple of the benefits
of shade-grown coffee.We also learned that shade reduces the demand for
water, in comparison to sun-grown plantations, by reducing overall
The skins of the coffee "cherries" on the tree shown below are red,
indicating ripeness. The coffee tree can reach 30 feet or more in
height, but is usually kept to about six feet to allow harvesting of
all the fruit.
We were able to visit the village of La
Corona because it is one of four in which CECOCAFEN has invested some
of its development funds into a tourism program. Local families are
trained as hosts and provided some minimal improvements (such as
filtered water and extra sheets), while local young people are trained
as guides and interpreters. Anivel (below, left, with our students) was
one of our guides; Mauricio and his family were one of the hosts.
Mauricio and I are shown with a small coffee plant. He is one of
several people who told me I look like Bicho (Beast), a Nicaraguan
||One of the great advantages of
fair-trade coffee is that it provides the growers with a lot of the
information that would normally only be in the hands of processors and
importers. This is why the "cupping" labs in Matagalpa are so very
important. (More on that topic later.)
Fair trade also allows customers to make a more direct connection with
the growers, which is ultimately the purpose of this entire trip.
Both in Mauricio's house and in the house where Pam and I stayed with
Dona Elsa, I found symbolic evidence of these connections. Our house
had a label on the front door from Equal Exchange, the company in West
Bridgewater, Massachusetts that showed fair trade could be done in the
U.S. coffee market -- and that helped me organize this trip. Mauricio
and his family are featured in an article I found on ther wall from
Counter Culture, another fair trade company.
|Following our introduction to
the crop, Anivel led members of our group
to the homes where we would be staying -- a total of six families
hosted us in groups of two or three. Pam and I stayed with Dona Elsa,
who showed us a better way to make rice and beans (below, right). Her
son Alejandro is
another of the community's guides, and is a student of history and
geography at the university in Matagalpa. He is shown (below, left)
time with some of the delightful youngsters in this extended household.
We never did learn all of the relationships, but three generations live
in several houses that share a small plot of land and a few common
All of the host homes are identified by agro-ecotourism signs,
indicating that the households have received some training and support
as part of an educational and economic development program that
connects farmers to people who are interested in coffee.
If this page interests you, you may wish to
visit my other
international travel pages or the international
section of my home page.