September 24, 2015

How Can Ecotourism Promote Sustainable Coffee Production?


Why do you love coffee? Is it that wonderful taste, that perk-you-up caffeine hit in the morning, or even that tantalising aroma? Or is it something else?

For me, coffee is more than just the product (as wonderful as that product is). Coffee means connecting with people. My favourite part of working in the industry is enabling coffee consumers to connect with producers at origin. Telling them that when they purchased that drink, they partnered with me to support ethically sourced, high-quality coffee.

SEE ALSO: 8 Facility Observations a Green Bean Buyer Makes Before Choosing Which Farm to Work With

An example of this is the story of Giovanni De Paz of Sierra Las Minas Coffee, an eco/agro -tourism business, coffee roastery, and coffee producer in Guatemala.

Sierra Las Minas Coffee: A Family Tradition

Giovanni grew up on the coffee plantation Finca Quebrada Seca near the border of Honduras in Guatemala—the same estate where much of his coffee is sourced from. His family planted their first lot on this land back in 1890, and he’s the fourth generation of his family to be working with the coffee here. Everything he knows has been handed down to him from his hard-working predecessors.

distributing coffee beans into sacks

 Producing coffee is challenging enough without the added stress of leaf rust. Giovanni collects the parchment from the patio. Credit: G. De Paz 

Ethically Sourced & High-Quality Coffee

Giovanni believes in sustainable, ethical, high-quality coffee; for him, this means connecting with his partners and consumers. Business relationships are more important than profit margins to him, despite struggling with leaf rust. Fortunately, more and more consumers also want ethically sourced and high-quality beans.

So why are these business relationships so important? Well, sourcing these beans has led to stronger relationships along the coffee production chain. As knowledge of the coffee becomes almost as important as the product itself, buyers talk to farmers and roasters about the coffee and the production conditions.

Direct trade partnerships mean there are fewer hands involved in the process of bringing beans to market. It’s a win-win situation: more profits trickle back to origin, while a more intimate level of knowledge trickles down to the end-consumer.

Shops and cafés can now give consumers seriously in-depth information about the coffee being purchased. It’s as close to origin as you’re going to get without actually visiting the farms themselves.

sorting through red coffee cherries

Giovanni is there with his workers every step of the way. Credit: G. De Paz. 

Building Strong Relationships

I know first-hand the strong relationships Giovanni builds. I met him because I was competing as a barista and wanted to use one of his coffees. He took me through an extremely intense cupping of the espresso roast, and we worked together until we found a roast profile we were both happy with.

The service I received was not an exception; he offers this to all interested trade partners because he wants people to understand what a better quality bean can offer. He’s happy to teach partners about coffee, from explaining the differences between caramelisation and carbonisation to helping them understand the benefits and drawbacks of bulk buying. Not only that, but when someone becomes a buyer, he dedicates tracts of land specifically to growing their beans. You become a part of his coffee story.

men in a café

 Giovanni strongly believes that intimate business partnerships are the key to a sustainable future for coffee producing communities. Credit: Kaitlin Moerman.

Sierra De Las Minas Eco-Tours: Promoting Knowledge & Conservation

Giovanni’s ancestors never had the opportunity to connect with traders and conscious consumers in the way he has. Sierra De Las Minas prides itself upon its environmentally sustainable business model and it now runs eco-tours as a part of this. These tours support the sustainable livelihoods of the local population, thereby tackling the social challenges the communities face.

The Sierra De Las Minas eco-tour allows guests to learn about the rural communities of the Las Minas region, as well as the colonial towns nearby. An educational tour, it highlights the process of coffee production, the thriving eco-systems of the Las minas region, and provides guests with 100% organic meals at the source of production.

antigua street guatemala

The magical colonial city of Antigua. One of the many beauties to see on the Sierra Las Minas eco-tour. Credit: Pedro Szekely.

The Social Benefits of Eco-Tours

This eco-tour not hasn’t just raised awareness and funding; it’s also deterred damaging and illegal activity in rural Guatemala, including drug operations, illegal land clearing, wood harvesting, and poaching.  When consumers are interested in eco- and agro-tourism and agro-tourism, the ecosystems surrounding the coffee plantations become more valued. These eco-tours help promote a more sustainable way of life as well as more sustainable methods of coffee production.

landscape view of guatemala central america

The beautiful backdrop of Guatemala City, the starting point of the eco-tour. Credit: Alphabet Citizen

Long-Lasting Relationships

Building an ethical and high-quality coffee industry means connecting with other coffee professionals. Between going to farms to work with the people at origin, working with roasters to explore the myriad of coffee flavours, working with baristas to further explore what the beans offer, and working with consumers to grow their understanding of coffee, this industry is a world of relationships—and it’s becoming more so every day. Doors are constantly being opened into the world of coffee, allowing the end-consumers to learn in depth about this amazing beverage—and the whole industry is benefiting from this.

Men drinking coffee

Giovanni & J. Albers in Canada bonding over a coffee. Credit: Kaitlin Moerman

Edited by A.Guerra & T. Newton.

Feature Photo Credit: G. De Paz.

Perfect Daily Grind.