Considered among the top-quality beans, the Mexican coffee is grown on the high altitudes and is often labeled Altura (grown on high altitudes). Mexican beans are grown in southern states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, where most of the small coffee farms are situated. Mexican coffee is, not only unique just in being among the world’s most delicious tasting coffee, but also due to the fact it is grown organically.
Mexico is among the world’s top coffee producing nations and largest organic coffee producer. Almost all of the organic coffee comes from the southern most states, Oaxaca and Chiapas. As profitable as it may seem today, there is a long tale of struggle both states can tell and even today both areas, largely inhabited by the indigenous populations, are among the country’s poorest.
Although the fair-trade organizations and initiatives to pay premium for organic coffee seem like the right steps to encourage environment friendly methods, Chiapas has historically preferred the environment regardless.
It goes all the way back to the 18th century when coffee plants were introduced to Mexico from Cuba and the Dominican Republic by the Spanish. The indigenous farming communities had a chance to keep their small pieces of land and farms in the remote countryside even after Spanish colonialism was over due to the fact Mexico had precious mineral deposits (even today oil drives greatest contribution to the Mexican economy) and that agriculture never become the focal point for Spanish Magistrates.
After the Spanish rule was over, civil wars and disagreements with Texas, France and the United States broke out, and the region never saw stability for the next 70 years. But this was the time when coffee plantations flourished. Land registrations in 1860s with Guatemala gave a chance to rich Europeans to buy unregistered land for cultivation and later indigenous men were tricked into working as peasants on their own land.
Things changed for the locals after the Mexican Revolution when Agrarian Reforms got the indigenous population their land back; at this time coffee cultivation began as a serious business. The locals who already had worked as slaves on coffee farms now held the skills and began to work in the favor of the local communities.
As twentieth century arrived PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), a party carrying developmental approach, recognized coffee as useful resource for Mexican economy. By funding rural sector they hence created investment for urbanization.
In 1973 INMECAFE- the National Coffee Institute of Mexico, was founded so as to support small coffee cultivating farmers by providing them with credit and assistance in various fields along with collaborating with the ICA (a London based collaboration that succeeded for about two decades and looked after the volatility of the international coffee market). From 1973 to 1990 coffee cultivation flourished tremendously (about 900%) in the Mexican countryside. But government support was limited and farmers of Chiapas and Oaxaca remained on the sidelines giving rise to the demands of indigenous groups reclaiming their land and resources as rightful owners for centuries now. Agrarian movements and labor organizations, all came together.
By the 1980s Mexican government retreated all its support for the coffee farmers as the oil prices declined and heavy foreign debt that it carried. By 1989 INMECAFE was completely over. So was ICA, as price of coffee in the international market saw a rapid decline (low rate Brazilian coffee got all over the market).
Coffee farming was badly damaged. $882 million worth of exports in 1985 fell on its knees to less than $370 million in 1991. With INMECAFE gone farmers hopelessly looked for ways to sell their beans and exploiting brokers made the most of the situation as farmers dwelling in remote regions had no access to information or transport or credit of any kind.
Out of these desperate situation came out groups like CEPCO and UCIRI in Oaxaca who compounds of many agrarian movements and labor organizations in early 1990s. These were the first coffee co-operatives of Mexico.
These coffee co-operatives took the role INMECAFE used to play and helped farmer exploitation come to a halt. They brought valuable information home that prices of organic coffee was more stable in the international market and that helped farmers grow independent from borrowing capital for things like chemical fertilizers.
Co-ops also communicated with “alternative trade organizations” like Equal Exchange. Fair-trade options were searched for by these co-ops. They make imperative social movements making space for Mexican farmers in a political scene that is out of the range of the farmers otherwise. But coffee is not merely cash driving source for Chiapas’ farmers. It’s their unique plantation style. They realize the importance of natural vegetation to the bio-diversity of an area (or our whole planet as a matter of fact) and hence have adopted “forest style”.
The coffee thus grown is “shade-grown” and is different from the full-sun varieties which were developed with economic focus and are grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
As indigenous people of Chiapas keep adopting their old way of coffee growing they have protected this earth unknowingly. It is not their attempt to please the economists of the outer world; it’s their way of life. Banana trees point out that vegetation has been altered by man still the forest like organization provide erosion control, wood, medicinal plants and additional fruit trees. A natural and diverse habitat for the coffee plants, growing under the shade of pine and banana trees keep them healthy and strong, providing lesser chances for the pests to prevail and providing natural compost. Moreover shade helps keep evaporation limited and decreases temperature, something that comes in handy during the dry weather.
Habitat for the other wild-life species is reserved too. As pointed by the journal Current Biology Lead author Shalene Jha of the University of Texas at Austin noted: “By supporting important seed dispersal processes, shade coffee farms maintain plant population gene flow across fragmented habitats.” Coffee being a perennial crop could potentially sequester around five tons of carbon per hectare, as reported on the Coffee Habitat website. The important ecological role played by the coffee forests cannot be further emphasized and to increase the number of shade coffee farms was never before more important. Not for the sustainable coffee growth, but for the well-being of this planet; the new goal of the specialty coffee market.