Café Organica Marcala (COMSA) is an association of small-scale organic coffee producers located in the La Paz region of western Honduras. Their coffee is used by a number of major Canadian roasters.
COMSA was founded as a co-operative in 2001 by 45 community-minded farmers. This was the time of the global coffee crisis when world prices hit rock bottom making it unprofitable for farmers to harvest their coffee. Many farmers in the area were forced to abandon their farms and migrate to cities or to the US in search of work. COMSA farmers realised they had to find a different way of trading coffee and took the decision to join together.
With support from a rural business development organisation, COMSA was formally registered as a limited company in 2003. This was the beginning of a journey in which they learnt that organic culture wasn’t just about fertiliser, it was about incorporating principles and values into farming practices and balancing the needs of business, society and the environment. Membership has since grown to more than 1,150 farmers, of which 27% are women.
The biggest threat facing farmers in the region is la roya, or leaf rust, a fungal disease that kills coffee trees. A number of farms have been devastated by la roya while others are damaged but recoverable. COMSA is providing farmers with saplings of varieties resilient to la roya, as well as supporting diversification of crops to reduce members’ dependency on coffee.
Image shows COMSA member Joselinda Manueles on her coffee farm Finca Cascaveles. Photo by Santiago Engelhardt.
COMSA was Fairtrade certified in 2007 after members learnt from other Fairtrade co-operatives in the area that Fairtrade included a stable minimum price much higher than the market price at the time. They soon realised other benefits included access to specialist markets, access to finance, business support and technical advice.
COMSA is paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price of US$1.40 a pound for Fairtrade sales, or the market price if higher. There is an additional premium of 30 cents a pound for certified organic coffee. The fact that COMSA pays good prices to members is public knowledge and forces other traders to offer higher prices to local farmers.
COMSA members receive the Fairtrade Premium of 20 cents a pound to invest in business development and community improvements. A quarter of the premium must be invested in productivity and quality improvement, to increase incomes and improve competitiveness with other coffees grown in the region.
2018 saw the completion of a major Premium project – the COMSA International School. The members decided to prioritize investment in the education of their children, and the school now educates those aged 4 months to 6 years, using techniques from a variety of education systems. The curriculum includes classes on healthy eating, the basics of coffee and other agriculture and more, though the emphasis is on allowing children to develop their own talents.
Photos by COMSA.
Olman Cruz, Comsa member: "As a father I am convinced that the COMSA International School is going to leave a great legacy, because there are about 300 children participating. In 15 years we will see a better Marcala, a clean Marcala, a Marcala with less homicide, a Marcala with many entrepreneurs. I believe that the method of developing all the skills in children is the opposite of the current system of education. Children are being blocked, while here we are giving them wings, every human being with a little encouragement can take full advantage."
Read more in this blog post (in Spanish – use the ‘translate’ option at the top-right of the page to read in your own language).
Other premium projects include:
- Education to diploma level for a number of employees and farmers in the field of Organic Agriculture, who have since implemented techniques such as a soil fertility program which advises farmers of the recommended organic fertilisers, nutrients and minerals needed to improve their soil.
- Integrated farm management training which covers crop quality, the use of shade trees, water management, and cupping characteristics.
- Irrigation systems and a reforestation project called Trees for the future.
- Construction of a large coffee storage facility, solar drying beds, and a processing plant which enables taste characteristics to be tailored to specific markets.
- Organic compost and fertiliser production and distribution scheme.
- Support for the community hospital, and maintenance and repair of the Red Cross community ambulance.
- School and university scholarships for promising students; modernisation of school kitchens.