There are no trees left in El Salvador that can be cut for firewood to dry coffee beans. So diesel fuel is used.
In the rest of Central America, cutting trees to stoke wood-fired, coffee-bean driers remains the second biggest cause of forest destruction. Cutting firewood for home cooking is the leading cause.
According to Raul Raudales, director of research and planning at The Mesoamerican Development Institute in Lowell, Mass., 80 square kilometres of forest are destroyed every year in Central America to provide wood for heating coffee-bean driers.
That amounts to 12.6 square centimetres of forest destroyed for every cup of coffee that’s drunk, he says. The area produces about 10 per cent of the world’s coffee — enough for about 66 billion cups.
The institute was created seven years ago as a non-profit organization, funded by the U.S. government and private foundations, to promote sustainability in Central America and Mexico.
One of its first priorities was to develop a coffee-bean drier that would operate on renewable energy — photovoltaic cells to produce electricity, solar panels to create hot water and, for nights and days without sun, a system of burning coffee-bean husks and prunings from coffee trees to create heat and energy.
Four years later, by 1997, the institute had developed a system of drying, milling, sorting, bagging, and storing coffee beans that uses renewable energy, destroys no forest, and can be put in place for a maximum of $300,000 .
The price tag is low enough that farmer co-ops can set up their own operations and sell directly to wholesalers for a much better price than global commodity markets pay — provided they can get financing to put the system in place. The institute helps by introducing them to financial institutions and buyers.
In 1996, a year before the institute perfected its processing system, Raudales met Derek and Brad Zavislake, two Canadians from Toronto — Derek in his late twenties, Brad in his early thirties. They were looking for a way into the coffee business that would be environmentally responsible and socially fair.
It was the beginning of a relationship that has connected their company, Merchants of Green Coffee Ltd., to six Latin American farmer co-ops endorsed by The Mesoamerican Institute — four that operate organically, and two that are changing over to organic. They’re located in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Peru.
In the six years that the company has been in existence, its outlay has been $1 million, raised from 40 investors, each contributing from $2,000 to $120,000. No one in the company has yet received a salary. Some of the investors work part-time for the company, some full time. Some part-timers have other, regular jobs. Some full-timers live rent-free with parents.
The company is now ready to enter the market. It operates out of an old factory building on the east side of the Don Valley Parkway near Queen St.
Raudales confirms that it pays the co-ops $3 a pound for green beans, which is four to seven times what farmers earn under the global commodity system, and 20 per cent higher than the price for similarly produced coffee recommended by the association that promotes fairly traded coffee.
The company markets green beans, because, says Derek, coffee turns stale within five days of roasting, regardless of packaging. So it recommends that people roast their own coffee. It is offering customers a free coffee roaster, that operates something like a popcorn popper (valued, Derek says, at $129), if they will sign up to buy two pounds of green coffee beans a month for one year, at $14 a pound delivered to the doorstep. The company’s website is www.merchant.org.
I’ve tasted their freshly-roasted coffee. It didn’t have the bitter taste that I associate with coffee — the hallmark, says Derek of roasted beans gone stale.
Best of all, I didn’t have to include in the cost of that cup the impact of poverty among farmers, the amount of forest lost, the addition to global warming, or the loss of life — the birds, animals, insects, fish, and plants that die without trees.