ISMAM co-op, Mexico
Named for Sierra Madre, the epic mountain range that runs from Mexico right across Guatemala and into El Salvador and Honduras, Indigenas de la Sierra Madre de Motozintla (ISMAM) is the cooperative of Mayan coffee farmers in the Mexican region of Chiapas.
These farmers, from more than 100 rural communities in Chiapas, have a deep, longstanding and almost spiritual connection with the land. They see themselves as stewards, not owners, of the ground and carefully protect it, almost never using chemicals on their crops.
Most of the coffee is grown under the lush canopy of the native forests that surround the mountain range; native animals live in these forests and growing coffee further enhances the biodiversity of the area. The state actively supports this biodynamic approach, and there are around ten regulated, biodiverse parks in Mexico in which farmers are permitted to grow coffee. Similarly, the government has recently shunned traditional chemical control of boroca, a small mite that attacks coffee plants, and has initiated an organic mushroom-based solution to combat the pest.
These people live very close to the land, eating mainly what they grow, and selling what they can in local markets to supplement their income from coffee. Every household grows their own maize and has a hand mill to process it into flour for tortillas while red meat is a luxury usually only afforded at harvest time (chicken is more common, often cooked with a cacao and chilli gravy).
Climate change is a significant problem for coffee producers all over the world, but especially for those in Mexico. Hurricanes Mitch (1998) and Stan (2005) both caused mass damage to Chiapas: roads, bridges, houses, hills and coffee were all damage and years later, production is still affected.
According to almost everyone Peoples Coffee spoke to on our last visit, the weather patterns here have become truly erratic; they used to be predictable, and many traditions revolved around, for example, the start of the rain season, but now dramatic shifts in the timing and duration of seasons are seriously affecting coffee bean maturation. Most farmers are lamenting the loss of yield as a result, sometimes up to 90%. In 2011 ISMAM will produce 28 containers of coffee, down from 40 in 2009, due to this issue.
It is issues like this that we discuss with the board when we visit co-ops, trying to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the region, to identify areas in which we can offer extra assistance. We work closely with people like Eimar Velazquez Mazariegus, ISMAM’s export agent and former roaster, who after years of Saturday university classes and a scholarship from ISMAM, recently completed his undergraduate degree in technology.
Elmar grew up amongst the activism in Chiapas: both his parents were members of ISMAM, and this inherited determination to personally achieve, and to support ones community through coffee runs strong in Elmar. In fact, these are traits we see in co-ops around the world, and one of the most rewarding things about our simple trading chain with thousands of coffee farmers.