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H.E.L.P. - Helping people to help themselves
For us at J.J. Darboven, coffee has always been a part of the joy of life. And if you want to enjoy it with pleasure, you also think of the quality of life of the people who produce it. In line with this attitude, in 2016 we decided, on the occasion of the company’s 150th anniversary, to establish a long-term support project for 250 coffee farmers and their families in Honduras at that time: H.E.L.P. (Honduras Education Life Project).
Along with OLAM, a global supplier of raw materials, we have been working closely with local project managers ever since, helping them to help themselves. Our common goal is to achieve improvements in production, living and educational conditions for coffee farmers in the Santa Bárbara region.
The interest in H.E.L.P. was so high from the start that the project was started with 277 coffee farmers in the end,
instead of with the originally planned 250 participants.
The project’s success, including the management of small businesses and the associated increase in productivity in the first few years, were so significant and compelling that H.E.L.P. was expanded to 600 project participants in 2018. And H.E.L.P. won't let them down. In addition to the continuation and expansion of current activities, a model farm is currently being set up. As a further priority, the educational opportunities of the local children are also being improved.
Small areas, low yields
H.E.L.P. is located in San Nicolás, a small municipality in the department of Santa Bárbara. Santa Bárbara is the oldest coffee region in Honduras. The climate favours coffee cultivation, but the hilly to mountainous landscape also makes it arduous and costly. The infrastructure is poorly developed and many coffee plants are outdated and yield weak returns. Santa Bárbara is the coffee region with the lowest level of productivity and one of the poorest in Honduras.
The coffee is generally grown on small family farms. The coffee farmers have little agricultural, ecological or economic knowledge. Thus the green coffee yields remain far below average. This automatically leads to low sales revenues, which makes improving the inadequate living and educational conditions difficult. This initial situation justifies the great popularity that was already felt at the first information events on H.E.L.P.. Numerous coffee farmers registered as project participants and started the project with individual wishes and ideas.
The project is supervised and implemented on site by agronomists responsible for the project.
After an analysis of the initial situation of the farms, individual development plans are drawn up together with the participants, resulting not only in progress with production technology but also in ecological and social progress. The project participants are continuously trained and get to know different methods of coffee cultivation. At first the analysis of soil samples serves to derive and implement individual measures to improve soil productivity. Learning effective techniques for the rejuvenation of coffee plants and the implementation of instructions for the construction of Sun Dryers are examples of measures which can be implemented easily and results in to positive effects quickly.
The coffee farmers work with each other actively, make their own suggestions, form groups, and support each other.
Shortly after the start of the project, Michiel Kuit, an external CSR Expert who regularly visits the project and puts
together the regular reports, noted:
"The project got off to a very good start and the team has done a dedicated and commendable job so far. The great interest shown by coffee farmers shows that H.E.L.P. is pursuing the right goals."
H.E.L.P. is now in its fourth year and we are pleased that, in addition to the improvements in operational processes in daily operations, which have already led to a significant increase in coffee quality, the motivation of all participants continues to increase.
When Señorita Paz registered as one of the first participants for H.E.L.P. in 2016, she had just taken over one hectare of coffee plantations from her father. An unusual set-up for a young, unmarried woman who lived on a farm with her parents, brothers, sisters and other family members. The family is indebted to a middleman and has to pay off the loans year after year with the harvest. This was a difficult starting situation for her, in addition to the already existing skepticism, from her father in particular, as to whether she would be up to the task. Yolanda has been motivated by the support of H.E.L.P. right from the start. The long-term perspective and the individual, continuous support were important to her in order to achieve the goal of producing high-quality coffee, which is connected to an increase in harvest. Thanks to the targeted measures, it has succeeded in doing so even beyond its expectations. Yolanda is a very committed and ambitious project participant who still wants to achieve a lot as a coffee farmer. She is a role model for others and now also receives the long sought after recognition of her father.
At the time of his registration for H.E.L.P., Señor Izaguera was aware that he had little knowledge about growing coffee. He managed an area of one hectare as well as he could far from the home he shares with his wife and two children. The journey to his coffee plants is long, the transportation of the harvested beans complex. Another serious problem was that he was preparing and drying his coffee beans in his home. His hope was a harvest of 450 kg, which was double the yields he was achieving at the time. It quickly became clear that Melvin saw H.E.L.P. as an opportunity to become a professional coffee farmer. Melvin has made impressive use of this opportunity in recent years. By analysing the current situation, providing expert advice and knowledge from the H.E.L.P. agronomist responsible for him and the training, he has achieved his first harvest goal. In addition to other short-term measures, the processing and drying of the coffee was transferred to a transportable Sun-Dryer outside his house, which led to a significant increase in the quality of the raw material. His family’s quality of life has also increased significantly as a result. Nowadays it's nice to see Melvin, who seemed insecure at the start of the project, as a committed, self-confident coffee farmer who wants to learn more.
Nora Sogastume is an impressive project participant. We found her to be a confident unmarried woman and mother of an eight-year-old son at the start of the project. She produces her coffee across an area of one hectare on an extreme slope directly behind her house. Nora had experience in growing coffee but most of her activies were not oriented towards the long-term or very profitable. The Roya infestation of her plants also confronted her with big problems. Thanks to the individual support and close cooperation with the H.E.L.P. team, Nora was not only able to increase the yield from the 600 kg of coffee she was producing at the time but also reduce her expenses. The newly created water treatment facilities also have a positive effect - also on the environment In addition to other measures that are currently being implemented, she is working towards the goal of having her coffee production certified. Nora is accepted by other coffee farmers and also shares her experience with other project participants, especially women, in training sessions.