Asociación Unión de Pequeños Caficultores (Association of Small Coffee Farmers, or UPC in Spanish) is a group of farmers that was formed in 1998 in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Located in the highlands of western Guatemala, Huehuetenango is a regional name that has become synonymous with excellent coffee full of flavor and character, and UPC’s coffee is no exception. The mountainous terrain in this region provides ideal conditions for growing many varietals of coffee, such as Bourbon, Caturra, Catauí and Maragogype, under the cover of native shade trees such as Ingas and Gravileas. The steep inclines of the coffee-growing terrain mean that coffee trees are often planted at seemingly gravity-defying angles, and make the hand-picked harvesting more difficult in some areas.
UPC’s stated mission is to “Promote and foster the social development of small coffee farmers, through projects launched for education, training, production, processing, and marketing of coffee.” They have the vision to conduct "integral productive projects so that the small coffee farmers achieve better living standards and contribute to the associated communities' development.”
There are currently around 160 active member farmers, both men and women, and the organization is continually growing and improving its membership and support for members. They grow coffee at an altitude that ranges between 1,300 and 1,700 meters above sea level. The cooperative produces Certified Organic, Certified Fair Trade, and Certified Rainforest Alliance coffees. They also have a robust program supporting women farmers with a women’s group and approximately a 50-50 split between men and women members. Some of the coffee grown exclusively by women is processed, bagged, and sold separately.
The Association offers funding facilities to its associates for coffee production, a micro-credit program for members to take out small loans to purchase land or equipment, provides technical assistance to member farmers, and coordinates training activities on coffee cultivation and processing. They believe that in this way, its members will produce a better product that will help raise the standard of living of their families and the community.
A Partnership through all odds
Nossa Familia Coffee takes great pride in its relationship with UPC and its member farmers’ commitment to using organic practices in their coffee farming, despite the challenges and lower yields that can often result from going the route of organic. We purchase Certified Organic coffee from UPC, which goes into our Augusta’s Organic Breakfast and Camila’s Organic roasts. In 2016, UPC unfortunately temporarily lost its Organic Certificate because they were not able to pay the high cost of the certification process on time - even though they continued to use organic practices. Despite this setback, Nossa Familia not only agreed to purchase the coffee anyway - even though we could no longer sell it as Certified Organic - but also offered a donation to cover a portion of the certification costs for the following year. We visited the cooperative in early 2017 to meet a few of the organic farmers and their technical assistants, and to taste early samples of their coffees. We were deeply humbled by the hospitality and generosity of the farmers we met. We learned about the myriad benefits that organic farming brings to the community and their farms, such as improving the quality and fertility of the soil and other crops.