Within the dense, western mountain ranges, and deep rivers of Honduras you will find Ocotepeque, one of the largest coffee producing departments of the country. The semi-tropical climate and favorable rainfall in this territory, allows for the growth of key crops such as coffee, corn, avocado, and other vegetables.
Among the smallholder farmers in the town of San Marcos, lives Felix Solórzano, a 20-year-old, passionate, impressive, young man. For Felix and his family, coffee has always been an important part of their family heritage. “Going back 3 generations, coffee was first introduced into my family by my great grandfather who bought this piece of land”, explains Felix, while standing on their 3.5-hectare coffee farm where he and his family also live in. Home to hummingbirds and small green warblers, the farm is recognized for its favorable weather and proximity to springs, which gives Felix and his family an advantage to grow high quality coffee.
If you meet Felix today, what might strike you the most is his interest in coffee and all things related to agriculture. However, this was not always the case. In Honduras, a significant portion of smallholder families face a growing number of obstacles when it comes to growing and selling coffee. This has not only contributed to a reduced interest in coffee production but has led youth to no longer seeing a future in agriculture.
Despite his parents involving him in daily farm activities so he could start learning about coffee at a young age, Felix’ interests growing up were quite different. “My family and I have always been conscious about our monthly expenses. I’ve always considered my parents to be hardworking, but coffee never seemed to be compensating for the long hours and effort they put into our farm”, recalls Felix. Regardless of loving the outdoors and having a unique love for nature, Felix remained somewhat doubtful when thinking about a future in coffee.
It wasn’t until he was 18 years old, that his way of thinking began to shift. Encouraged and convinced by his parents, Felix joined UNIOCASMO’s youth committee in 2020. UNIOCASMO is a second-tier farmer organization that is comprised of several smaller base groups to leverage economies of scale. Little did he know that this decision he thought was insignificant at the time, would spike his excitement for coffee, while allow him to transform his full-time hobby into a new business: BEES!
As part of the youth committee, members take part in youth development and climate adaptation workshops. This includes training on climate-smart practices, life and soft skills development, entrepreneurship, and business management. Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) has been a key implementer of programs in Honduras over the past 10 years and continues to work in the region with an increasing focus on youth and farmer organizations. Together with Peet’s Coffee, HRNS implements the project “Strengthening the Climate Resilience of Coffee Families Through Youth Engagement” with UNIOCASMO, promoting climate change adaptation, youth development, and intergeneration collaboration.
Improving Climate Change Resilience
“With climate change bringing new challenges to coffee production and impacting are overall coffee yields, finding ways to adapt has become extremely important”, states Felix. “Taking part in climate change adaptation trainings made me realize that there’s new knowledge and different practices I could implement that would positively contribute to my family’s coffee farm”. As part of climate adaptation training, Felix learned about climate-smart agricultural practices and ways to diversify income. With HRNS’ support, he established a demonstration plot within his family’s farm incorporating different climate adaptation practices including cover crops, temporary and permanent shade, and crop distancing. In addition, he’s also implemented new coffee varieties that are more resistant to extreme droughts and heavy rains. Eager to evaluate the results, Felix is closely monitoring his farm to make sure that his new coffee plants grow strong and are more productive in the upcoming years.
The Start of a New Business
Within the framework of the program, “Strengthening the Climate Resilience of Coffee Families Through Youth Engagement” youth also cultivate leadership skills and how to establish their own small business. They receive financial training and assistance to develop a business plan. “I was 11 years old when I first established my first beehive on our farm. My father presented the importance of bees to me. He constantly emphasized how they helped improve coffee berry ripening, size, and uniformity with their cross-pollination”. Although Felix slowly learned more about them as he grew up, he mostly saw beekeeping as a fun hobby that also contributed towards the development of their coffee. “When discussing the idea about starting my own business with my parents, beekeeping came to mind. What could possibly be better than starting a business on a topic that I’m not only passionate about, but that complements and supports the work I do in the farm?” His business, “The Prodigious Bee” or “La Abeja Prodigiosa”, was shortly born.
Felix presented his business plan to a credit committee and requested small loan to help him start, as part of the Revolving Funds for Inclusive Financing (FORFI) model. HRNS helps farmer organizations that have transparent management practices, are legally established, and are inclusive like UNIOCASMO, to set up a fund which provides loans to youth who present successful business ideas so they can start their entrepreneurships.
With the $1,500 received in January 2022, Felix increased the number of beehives in his farm to 20 and bought other essential equipment he needed to expand such as bee suits, gloves, boots, hive boxes, buckets, and honey containers.
One thing Felix and his family have learned is the importance of diversifying their incomes. Income from coffee is very seasonal, lasting only between 2 to 3 months of the year. “Selling honey all year long is a secure an additional income to my family”, Felix describes. Since he started 6 months ago, Felix has earned an additional income of $2,400 by selling 240 bottles of honey to members of his community. Part of his earnings will be used to pay back the small loan given to him by his farmer organization. Another part of his profit will be saved to pay for his undergraduate education once he finishes school, and the rest will be re-invested into his business. There is even the possibility of exploring other bee-related products he could potentially sell.
“My dream is to keep growing, expand my business and teach other youth in my community about the importance of diversifying our incomes. My hope is that youth my age who are also involved in their coffee farms learn about bees and can replicate what I’m doing. I’m happy to teach them everything I’ve learned”.