PROCAFE, Tasting Their Way to Success One Cup of Coffee at a Time USAID is partnering with the private sector to increase revenues for farmers in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

The roar of the industrial coffee grinder drowns out Guillermo’s voice as he talks excitedly about the coffee he is preparing for today’s ‘cupping’ session. These cupping sessions allow producers and potential buyers to sample coffee beans and assess their quality and value. The dark, aromatic beans, from a local producer, have been brought to PROCAFE, a small-lot coffee collective that provides coffee cupping services in Nuevo Progreso in the San Marcos district of Guatemala. The six young growers that make up PROCAFE learned this sought-after skill though USAID’s Communities Leading Development project, implemented by Catholic Relief Services, and are now helping small coffee producers improve their coffee beans and in turn increase their revenues.

The nutrient rich volcanic soil of Guatemala’s Western Highlands is ideal for growing some of the world’s finest coffee beans. Yet, small-lot coffee growers are at a disadvantage when it comes to cultivating, grading, and selling these lucrative beans. Coffee is a very unpredictable crop, and a complex value chain means growers face many challenges in getting their product to market.

Growers can sell on the commodity market, but the revenues often barely cover the cost of production. The alternative is to sell on the smaller specialty market where buyers will pay more for a higher quality product. However, this market demands a larger investment in time, effort, and skills. The financial benefits are greater, but most small lot producers either can’t afford or don’t have the skills to consistently produce the high quality beans that specialty buyers seek. USAID’s work in value chain development empowers communities to overcome these challenges by improving agricultural techniques, technical skills, and market opportunities.

USAID works with small-scale producers to build their farming skills, create links to market opportunities, and, in the case of the young people at PROCAFE, provide training to become certified coffee cuppers. Angelita pours hot water into glass cups explaining that the temperature of water and how long the coffee seeps is crucial for detecting the nuanced flavors held in the beans. For Angelita, learning to be a certified coffee taster, a highly coveted skill in the coffee world, was a dream come true. The tasters go from steaming glass to glass loudly slurping the coffee into their mouths. After swishing it around they spit it into another container and begin to silently take notes on the coffee’s characteristics: its bitterness, body, and flavor profiles. Finally, they compare notes and come to an agreement on the quality of the beans. This is important, as a farmer can receive three times more per pound for quality beans.

The members of PROCAFE all come from farming families that have been growing coffee for generations. Many of their friends and relatives were initially skeptical of these young entrepreneurs and their new learned skills. Angelita, a young mother and coffee producer, remembers with a smile trying to convince her father that changing farming practices will lead to better profits.

"Now my parents are so happy that I have the tools to make a better life for them." - Angelita

The coffee value chain leads to a buyer. To complete this chain, USAID partnered with Intelligentsia Coffee, a leading innovator and influencer in the U.S. specialty coffee market, for the Extraordinary Coffee Workshop (ECWx) in Antigua Guatemala. Intelligentsia has been working to improve the livelihoods of producers in Guatemala through improving the quality of their coffee since 2003. Ten small lot producers from USAID’s coverage area were invited to participate in this four-day event. They learned about Intelligentsia´s coffee standards, buying process, and the technical assistance the company provides to their partners. PROCAFE attended and visited a farm which Intelligentsia buys from, participated in a group cupping session, and participated in several sessions on improving the quality of their coffee through agronomic and postharvest practices.

“At Intelligentsia, we believe that the best coffee projects are built around strong public-private partnerships. ECWx Guatemala 2020 embodied the approach that USAID has taken to leverage private-sector resources to create lasting impact in coffee communities throughout Guatemala. USAID is great at a lot of things the private sector doesn't do well, like training growers, building and strengthening farmer organizations, and facilitating access to credit and investment capital, while private-sector companies are essential in generating lasting returns on those investments by doing what USAID can't, sharing market intelligence and generating revenue by buying coffee year after year.” - Michael Sheridan, Director of Sourcing & Shared Value Intelligentsia Coffee

This experience gave Guillermo, Angelita, and the other members of PROCAFE the information, skills, and the drive to find opportunities to sell their coffee. Recently, they agreed to distribute through Tierra Verde and sent samples to Falcon Coffee, a sustainable coffee buyer, in the United Kingdom. Through this experience they realized that a specialty coffee roaster is only as good as the raw material they can source, which all begins in their productive fields in Nuevo Progreso.

USAID’s Communities Leading Development Project implemented by Catholic Relief Services, empowers communities through its Inclusive Value Chain Strategy by strengthening the linkages throughout the coffee, honey, potato, macadamia, and spice value chains, focusing on closing the existing gap between smallholder farmers and profitable markets. Implemented in 200 communities in Guatemala, it promotes participatory development plans across a variety of sectors with the inclusion of women, indigenous people, youth, and people with disabilities.


Photos By: Benjamin Ilka(USAID), Photos #9 and 11 Catholic Relief Services, Photo # 10 Itelligentsia Coffee