Texas A&M: Borlaug Institute Project To Benefit Honduran Coffee Industry

The Center for Coffee Research and Education of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University in College Station will establish a new coffee academy and laboratories in Honduras to provide training for coffee farmers as well as badly needed youth employment opportunities.

Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture
The name for the facility will be the Honduran Coffee Academy and will offer both in-person and virtual training, said Roger Norton, regional director for the Borlaug Institute and director of the Center for Coffee Research and Education.

Project Goals
“This project is in keeping with a primary objective of the Borlaug Institute, which is part of Texas A&M AgriLife,” Norton said. “And that is to continue the legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, by helping improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers throughout the world.”

The project is intended to reach existing trainers who work with smallholder coffee farmers, including those in non-governmental organizations and agricultural cooperatives, and the coffee producers themselves.

“While the project’s purpose is to benefit all coffee farmers, we are emphasizing promoting coffee industry opportunities to Honduran youths,” Norton said. “We will also place emphasis on helping women coffee farmers develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.”

The five-year project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and is being implemented in collaboration with nonprofit ACDI/VOCA. The project will establish two laboratories for training in the most advanced technologies for coffee processing, roasting, cupping and developing barista skills. It will also implement a complete curriculum related to all aspects of coffee production and the coffee industry, from plant genetics onward.

Laboratories and training facilities will be located in a facility of the Honduran Coffee Institute, IHCAFE, in western Honduras.

“We anticipate this project will have a positive impact on the Honduran economy, both by improving the country’s vital coffee industry and helping provide additional employment opportunities for Hondurans, especially Honduran youth,” Norton said.

Data from the Honduran vocational education institution shows 14.2% of youths in the Honduran labor force are unemployed and an additional 25.5% neither study nor actively seek employment.

Norton noted the Center for Coffee Research and Education is one of the premier coffee research facilities in the U.S., and the Borlaug Institute has already implemented six other coffee-related projects in Africa and Latin America.

“This expertise and knowledge of the coffee industry that our team has acquired makes us uniquely qualified to lead this new initiative,” Norton said. “We can provide Honduran coffee farmers with the technology, technical assistance and science-based data they would otherwise not be able to access.”

Norton said through coordination with Honduran partners, including IHCAFE, the academy will also fully train Honduran trainers and position them to carry on post-project training.

The Honduran Coffee Industry
Honduras is the largest coffee producer in Central America and the third largest in Latin America. It ranks fifth in coffee production globally, accounting for about 4% of the world’s coffee supply. Between 2017 and 2019 more than 7.5 million 132-pound bags of green coffee were produced per year in Honduras.

More than 100,000 families across Honduras are involved in coffee production, with 95% being small-scale farmers and 70% producing on farms of less than about 5 acres.

“While prices for coffee have improved recently, they have been relatively low for the past decade and will probably go back to being lower in the future,” Norton said. “Not only that but farmers in Honduras and other Central American countries are typically confronted by climate change, coffee diseases, especially coffee leaf rust, as well as economic challenges.”

He said a primary goal of the project is to provide coffee farmers with the knowledge, skills and technology needed to increase yields and improve the quality of their product as well as receive higher prices and increase their operational profitability and sustainability.

The Need For Training
The necessity for an improved, modern training program was underscored in a 2018 report by Heifer International and the Honduran Coffee Institute with support from the United Nations Development Programme.

The report highlighted several facility and value chain deficiencies for training, including limited access to modern technologies, poor storage and drying facilities, lack of quality controls and product uniformity, and limited access to wet processing methods.

Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture
It also noted deficiencies in training practices and more human aspects of industry sustainability, such as the advanced age of many of the country’s producers, insufficient technical advisory services, lack of training on entrepreneurial approaches, outmoded curricula in training for quality and cupping, and weak innovation capacity.

“Many Honduran coffee producers are missing the potential for a better livelihood due to a lack of knowledge about the overall industry,” said Eric Brenner, assistant director of the Center for Coffee Research and Education, who will be among the project trainers. “We will help local farmers by providing in-country training resources and personnel support.”

Brenner said another goal of the training will be to improve Honduras’ overall coffee culture by showing farmers how to develop high-value specialty coffees, improve their harvesting and brewing processes, and “better understand each link in the coffee supply chain.”

“We also want to enhance the expertise and value of cuppers and baristas in coffee-producing countries,” he said. “Currently, this expertise has been provided by those in coffee-consuming countries, and we’d like to bring it closer to home.”

Training Curriculum
Training will be imparted in a modular format, so participants can select the topics that are most relevant for them given their professional background and knowledge. Texas A&M AgriLife certificates will be given upon successful completion of each module. Courses will be given in intensive format: in five days or on multiple weekends to accommodate the work schedules of participants.

Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture
The academy’s curriculum is based on three modules:

— Coffee from the grain to consumer.
— The botany and production of coffee.
— Technologies for managing coffee plantations and processing.

“The training curriculum will include the topic of coffee by-products, which can substantially increase producer incomes,” Brenner said. “It will also address themes related to the entire coffee value chain.”

Brenner said topics will range from coffee genetics and phenology to crop management, flowering and fruiting of the trees, water requirements and management, production of seedings, plant nursery management, pruning and shade, and renovation of coffee plantations.

“Most coffee production is in the context of cropping systems, so we also want to emphasize diversification in cropping systems for both family food security and a means to grow profitable crop alternatives to coffee within these systems,” Norton added. “We will also go through all aspects of coffee processing as well as address how those in the industry may improve their marketing and barista skills.”

While most training will be done in-person or virtual from project facilities at IHCAFE, additional in-person training will be also provided in other locations in the western and central regions of the country where most of the coffee is grown.

“We will collaborate with trainers at the institute to identify opportunities and locations for more educational outreach to coffee growers,” Brenner said. “Often coffee producers respond better when they can see something in person or when they learn about it from another grower.”

Purpose Of The Training
Norman Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture
The training program will have three primary objectives:

— Updating the technical field experts who advise coffee producers.
— Improving the crop management techniques of coffee farmers, especially women.
— Preparing young adults for employment in the coffee value chain and for possibly developing their own businesses within the value chain.

“Fulfilling the first objective will ensure that those who train coffee producers will have the most recent technical information about genetic material for coffee and management of coffee farms in the face of climate change,” he said. “It will also provide them access to the most recent information on the new modalities of coffee processing and utilization of coffee by-products.”

He said fulfilling the second objective will promote generational continuity in coffee production and help create new employment opportunities for youth.

“And all three of these objectives will contribute to strengthening the livelihoods of coffee farming families and the international competitiveness of the sector,” Norton said. “We believe this collaboration with Texas A&M University’s Center for Coffee Research and Education and IHCAFE will help Honduras become one of the world leaders in knowledge and adoption of coffee technology.”