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Between Monks and Monkeys

Peru, part one. Visiting the coffee farmers of northern Peru

PERU | Thursday, 20 June 2013 | Views [2375]

Coffee picking with the locals, Las Pirias

Coffee picking with the locals, Las Pirias

Recently I made a three week trip to Peru with a group of nine people from Trade Aid , New Zealand’s biggest fair trade organisation. Most of us are volunteers in one of Trade Aid’s 29 shops, and are also involved in education in the community. The party also included a board member from Trade Aid international, the head office of the organisation, and the Education co-ordinator for Trade Aid who organised the trip. Our itinerary took us to meet some of the groups who produce the crafts and the coffee that we sell in our shops.

We landed in Lima on a hazy day – we later learned that Lima is often covered in this misty haze which has apparently inspired writers and poets – we just found it a bit weird.  We stayed in the suburb of Miraflores, which is quite well-to-do, and not at all representative of how most of Lima’s population lives, as we later found when driving around some of the sprawling city’s more typical and much poorer neighbourhoods. Miraflores was a good place to relax, however, take a walk through the seafront parks, and get used to the idea of suddenly being transferred from little old NZ to South America.

From Lima we flew to Piura in northern Peru. (NB When taking a domestic flight in Peru you have to arrive at the airport 2 hours early. You may also get your suitcase searched.) In Piura we met up with representatives from Cenfrocafe, the coffee co-operative, and our interpreter, Hugo . They took us to dinner at a great restaurant, Don Parce, near the Plaza de Armas. It’s recommended in Lonely Planet and has an excellent menu. My fish was delicious.

Next day we had a 6 hour van ride from Piura to Jaen.  The excellent road took us through very flat, scrubby dry country and little scattered dusty villages, where a major feature was the lurking presence of many sinister-looking turkey buzzards, called gallinazos in Spanish. Then we wound upwards and began to see many cacti and some spectacular and arid looking hills. As we went onwards the landscape morphed gradually into lush peaks covered in greenery with steep fields and tiny villages perched high above the main road.  One minute we were climbing steadily through mist, then we had crossed a 2100 metre pass and were descending through barren sandy hills once again. Lower down we followed a rushing river and began to see many rice paddies, and realised that this is an important rice growing area of Peru. It was a fascinating trip and a reminder of how much interesting and varied scenery there is in Peru.

The following few days were spent visiting coffee growing villages of Tabaconas and Las Pirias, near Jaen. We met coffee farmers, did some picking of the red coffee ‘cherries’, and learned about pruning and fertilising the bushes  as well as the problems that the farmers have with rust disease and shortage of labour to help with the harvest. We followed the coffee beans through the process of washing and fermenting, dehusking, drying, removing the parchment layer, testing for quality, and finally bagging the dried green beans for export. 

The most important thing we learned, and something I’ll remember every time I drink a coffee from now on, is that the farmers do most of the work and take most of the risk to get your cappuccino into the cup, and they get the least return.  Even the higher fair trade prices which Cenfrocafe  members receive are tied to the low prices paid on the ‘open’ market for one of the world’s most valuable commodities.

During our stay in the coffee region we met some fine people and were offered wonderful and very generous hospitality. At Las Pirias we were fascinated to see a sideline which the local families are developing – honey production. The non-stinging bees are tiny – about the size of ants – but they produce lots of the most delicious honey, with a subtle lemon flavour. Cenfrocafe is helping to develop the honey business by investing in equipment to enable larger scale production. It should be a winner!

NB if you are in Piura, make sure to visit Cenfrocafe’s Cafeteria in a walking street near the main Plaza. Fabulous coffee desserts!

After a fascinating week in the coffee growing area, we said a fond farewell to the people  at Cenfrocafe who had given us such a well organised and interesting experience, and flew back to Lima.

NB For more information on Trade Aid, NZ's foremost fair trade organisation, check out www.tradeaid.org.nz

Tags: cenfrocafe, coffee, fair trade, farmers, jaen, peru, piura, trade aid


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