By NCA Next Gen
Interview content does not necessarily reflect the views or position of the National Coffee Association or NCA Next Gen.
Mike Rosa, Commodities Manager at Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee, and NCA Next Gen Council Member, recently had the opportunity to talk with Emilio Medina, founder and CEO of Becamo S.A. Formed in 1983, Becamo has become widely known as one of the top coffee-exporting companies in Honduras. Mike and Emilio were able to spend some time together during Mike’s travels in Honduras where he observed some of the sustainability work being done first-hand. The following is their conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.
MIKE: Emilio, it’s been a volatile few years for the industry as a whole, and exporting coffee is especially tricky. What challenge has stood out to you?
On the export side, the biggest challenge has been dealing with the inverted market. This has made projections and planning much more difficult (but important), and it has become increasingly hard to keep added costs from quickly snowballing.
On that note, what are some of the other recent challenges from an overall planning or strategy perspective?
Shipments and logistics have become much more difficult to manage, with the quality implications and cost headaches they can bring. The margin for error has decreased. Resources required for functions like document management have increased by 100%.
One recurring comment seems to be the challenge of getting the next generation of coffee farmers in Honduras engaged. Is this an area of focus for Becamo?
We had identified this as an emerging issue all the way back in 2002. It was clear that the youth’s lack of participation would become critical to address. This is when we started our first sustainability initiative in a small village near San Juan. One month later, we had already seen significant progress, and the effects on the economy and happiness within the town were evident.
The next generation needs to see that when things are done properly, there is optimism for a better future. Showing what can be possible with the right tools and education is key to demonstrating the opportunities in coffee to young people.
To that end, we created a brand called Coffee Youth – a program supporting and marketing coffee produced by the next generation of farmers. After seeing the success of this program, we created Women Coffee, a similar concept of exporting coffee labeled as being produced by women. In all our projects, the succession to the next generation of coffee is kept in mind.
Are sustainability programs finding success in getting youth engaged in coffee? What sort of messaging or education have you seen success with through Bloom/NKG Verified?
Our programs emphasize access to biodiversity in farming and continuous improvement of the quality of the coffee. This motivates producers, as they can clearly see the potential improvements to their income. We cannot lose sight of the basic truth that income is the main motivating factor for the producer. If the producer is not seeing good returns on their coffee, that is when the risk of migration becomes higher.
For young people, we need to pass along knowledge of effective agronomy practices for producing coffee. We’ve seen success with the rollout of our Ecopil technology – a key benefit to these seedlings is that they lead to well-yielding coffee trees in 18 months, instead of 3 years. To the producer, especially the young producer, seeing income starting to flow in earlier is an incentive. On top of this, the actual bags weigh less than the traditional system, so there are transportation cost savings observed.
Outside of youth engagement, we hear about many challenges the Honduran farmer faces – availability of coffee pickers, leaf rust, etc. Where do you think the biggest areas of focus need to be to ensure the long-term health of the coffee industry in Honduras?
The focus we need to have is on the improvement of the producer’s income. All the supply chain actors have a role to play in ensuring that the price to the producer is fair, motivating, and sufficient to cover their basic needs.
One other aspect of our programs is strengthening the education and health programs in the local community. This can motivate youth to stay in the coffee areas/where they were born, because they have essentials like good health and education. Having these needs met ensures they don’t need to look elsewhere like the United States in order to find those opportunities.
With these initiatives continuing to grow in scale, do you feel there is a notable upside to the current Honduran production levels we have seen? Or is steady production with better farmer profitability a more reasonable target?
Sustainability initiatives need to grow much larger to negate the trends of migration and abandonment of farms. In my opinion, Honduras will not be able to return to 10 million quintals (7.7M 60kg bags), due to factors such as lack of labor, climate change, and costs. If costs increase, there will be a strong demotivation for producers, so we need these initiatives to help producers in advance. To maintain or increase production in Honduras, we must work together. Producers, exporters, roasters, NGOs, etc. to improve the producer’s income.
Looking to the future, what is your vision for Becamo’s continued development and its identity?
Becamo has been and will continue to be highly committed to coffee growers. Every day, we try to bring more allies to our producer’s sustainable services unit, to bring knowledge and better income to the producer. Right now we are about to sign into a large collaboration program with USAID, among others, reinforcing our end goal of assisting the producer.
On a personal level, which skills do you think were most valuable for you when coming up and navigating the ups and downs of the coffee world?
I always kept a focus on seeking efficiencies, efficiency in the marketplace, and then within my company. Nowadays, that focus on efficiencies has moved towards sustainable coffee growing projects, as they are the key to the future of the coffee industry. Without a theme of efficiency embedded in these programs, costs can run out of control and threaten their success or farmer adoption.
If there was a piece of advice you would tell your younger self, as you were growing in the industry, what would it be?
Stay disciplined. Respect the rules and set risk limits. Attention to quality and best practices will always guide you in the right direction.
What do you want the broader coffee community to know about the Honduran producer?
They are heroes. They are persistent, hardworking, and want to stay committed to continuing to produce. With that said, those of us in a position to do so must continue to support and guide.