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MEXICO
HARVEST
PLAN

Introduction

In 2023, Crop to Cup introduced a new direct export channel for smallholders in Mexico called Good Coffee Program in partnership with the State of Puebla and Denso Café. Our goal for GCP was to open specialty market access to producers from lesser-known regions of Mexico like Puebla as well as to smallholders positioned in more remote regions who may otherwise only have the ability to sell to coyotes. Through a structure of fast, transparent payments with incentives based on quality coupled with technical support, cupping feedback and direct connection with buyers, we designed an environment where smallholders are incentivized to participate in specialty export and have the opportunity to earn more for their harvest through quality practices.

In our pilot year of GCP during the 2023 harvest, we evaluated 193 samples representing lots from 137 smallholder participants hailing from Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla, ultimately purchasing and exporting a full container of coffee through the program. Expressed as exportable green, the average premium smallholders received through GCP 2023 was $0.64 per pound, with coffees ranging from 84 to 87.88 points in quality with an average score of 85.91. But at the farm-gate level, quality premiums represented a 55%–122% improvement over local prices due to the absence of intermediaries and the suppression of parchment prices in Puebla.

For most of the producers who participated in GCP 2023, it was their first direct export and first sale to the United States market.

For 2024, we’re expanding and enhancing GCP to include more producers from our networks and more producing regions, further improve speed of payment and speed of shipping, and establish partnerships to enable scalable and regionalized milling and export.

Through GCP, we will offer traceable and price transparent coffees as single producer microlot separations as well as larger-volume regional blends created from GCP lots.
In 2023, Crop to Cup introduced a new direct export channel for smallholders in Mexico called Good Coffee Program in partnership with the State of Puebla and Denso Café. Our goal for GCP was to open specialty market access to producers from lesser-known regions of Mexico like Puebla as well as to smallholders positioned in more remote regions who may otherwise only have the ability to sell to coyotes. Through a structure of fast, transparent payments with incentives based on quality coupled with technical support, cupping feedback and direct connection with buyers, we designed an environment where smallholders are incentivized to participate in specialty export and have the opportunity to earn more for their harvest through quality practices.

In our pilot year of GCP during the 2023 harvest, we evaluated 193 samples representing lots from 137 smallholder participants hailing from Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla, ultimately purchasing and exporting a full container of coffee through the program. Expressed as exportable green, the average premium smallholders received through GCP 2023 was $0.64 per pound, with coffees ranging from 84 to 87.88 points in quality with an average score of 85.91. But at the farm-gate level, quality premiums represented a 55%–122% improvement over local prices due to the absence of intermediaries and the suppression of parchment prices in Puebla.

For most of the producers who participated in GCP 2023, it was their first direct export and first sale to the United States market.

For 2024, we’re expanding and enhancing GCP to include more producers from our networks and more producing regions, further improve speed of payment and speed of shipping, and establish partnerships to enable scalable and regionalized milling and export.

Through GCP, we will offer traceable and price transparent coffees as single producer microlot separations as well as larger-volume regional blends created from GCP lots.

We expect offer samples from GCP to begin arriving mid-March with contracts to follow in April.
To contract coffees forward on a SAS-PSS basis, contact your trader at Crop to Cup.


Country Context

Based on its proximity, it would be easy to assume that of everywhere we work, Mexico should be the easiest. Yet, despite sharing a border and deep connections to the U.S., Mexico remains one of the most complex places we work. Our work there dates back to 2013—but the history of coffee in Mexico goes back centuries.

A straight line connects colonialism to modern coffee production in Mexico, and the legacy of that history creates challenges unique to Mexico.

First introduced by Spanish colonizers in the 18th century, coffee in Mexico initially grew on large plantations owned by Europeans and worked by Mexican laborers. Following Mexican independence, wealthy landowners wielded “modernization” as a rationale to abolish communal and corporate land rights, stripping indigenous communities of their lands to form large estates. Agrarian land reforms following the Mexican Revolution began a process of redistribution of land from those larger private estates back to smallholders through the ejido system, which established communal land areas dedicated to agricultural production.

In 1973, to promote coffee production on these newly created lands, the Mexican government established The Mexican Coffee Institute (Instituto Mexicano del Café, or INMECAFE), providing technical assistance, equipment, transportation and credit so that coffee producers could deliver their coffee to the international market. By the end of INMECAFE’s first decade, coffee was the largest agricultural export in Mexico, accounting for 35% of all agricultural exports.

As part of his neoliberal policies, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari abolished INMECAFE in 1989, the same year that the International Coffee Agreement collapsed—exposing smallholders to price volatility and leaving them without access to credit or government assistance—and in 1991 ended ejido land reform policies, again forcing smallholders to abandon lands they’d farmed, dispersing many into remote or mountainous areas.

After the ICA collapsed, so too did prices for coffee; the Coordination of Coffee Grower Organizations estimates that as a result of the ensuing coffee crisis, Mexican coffee growers would have lost 65% of their potential revenues since the start of the crisis. As a result, 71% of coffee growers stopped using fertilizers, 40% reduced pruning, and 75% stopped investing in control of pests, leading to lower qualities, yields and resiliency ahead of the coffee leaf rust outbreak in Latin America in 2012.

In response, many of the coffee growers in Mexico—who today number more than 500,000, 85% of whom are indigenous and with 95% growing coffee on fewer than 3 hectares of land—organized into informal cooperatives or otherwise collaborated to mitigate their risk and attempt to access the best price for their coffee.

Mexico offers unique opportunities for quality with many of its farms planted with decades-old root stock of lower-yielding traditional varieties like Bourbon and Typica and an increased interest domestically in specialty coffee, leading to experimentation and innovation in coffee processing. Today, Mexico is the seventh largest coffee exporter in the world—and the largest exporter of organic coffee.

To overcome our greatest challenges working in Mexico—aggregation of coffee into lots of exportable size and qualities—Crop to Cup is committed to working through communities, allowing us to build mutual relationships and networks of trust. We first introduced Good Coffee Program—our implementation of a smallholder direct export channel in Mexico—in 2023 in an effort to create a new model of direct export built on price transparency, rapid payment, quality incentives and open market access through direct connection with committed buyers.


Good Coffee Program

GCP works to invite producers to earn more for their coffee through mechanisms within their control: quality processing and drying practices. Participating producers are clustered into Escuelas de Campo under guidance of a technician, where each smallholder has access to agronomic support, technical training on fermentation and drying and cup feedback. Producers in the State of Puebla receive additional support through the government: transportation of coffee to bodegas and milling, material support in the form of GrainPro bags for storage of dried cherry or parchment as well as equipment support. GCP’s Escuelas de Campo are organized under the expertise of nearly 30 agronomists including 17 agronomists dedicated to work within the state of Puebla and 6 agronomists in Oaxaca from our longtime partners at Coro.
Participation in Good Coffee Program is free for both producers and roasters; the only cost for smallholders is in covering the cost of shipping an 800 gram representative sample of their lot to Coatepec. All specialty lots greater than 300kg (as parchment) regardless of cultivar or process are eligible for the program.

To solicit participation in the program ahead of harvest, we leveraged contacts throughout producing regions in which we’ve sourced in our 12-year history working in Mexico and, as in years past, used radio and WhatsApp broadcasts to promote the GCP and communicate daily prices to smallholders living in difficult-to-reach and remote regions. Partner groups for 2024 include the State of Puebla, CORO/Red 5 in Oaxaca, CAFECO in Chiapas, and participants from GCP 2023 including winners of the Pride of Puebla cup quality competition.

For the 2024 program, we distributed a poster in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz and Puebla to further generate interest in the program:

For 2024, Crop to Cup once again retained two local agents, Israel Paz and Joz Cortes of Denso Café—both skilled, calibrated cuppers with deep connections to producer communities in Mexico—to oversee GCP. Israel and Joz work together not only to evaluate quality at their lab in Puebla, but also in discovery of new producer relationships through their networks. As producers submit samples and complete an information-gathering survey, the coffees are milled, graded and cupped by Israel and Joz.

Through the harvest, producers are invited to submit samples to GCP on a rolling basis. Within a week of submission, they receive cupping feedback from Denso Café with an opportunity to learn more about how they could improve their coffee’s quality—and thus improve their potential price offer. Within a week of this initial evaluation, samples that meet the program requirements will be forwarded to Crop to Cup’s lab in Brooklyn and evaluated. Following this second evaluation, smallholders receive a second round of feedback delivered with a transparent price offer inclusive of a quality premium based on a published price calculator. Toward the end of harvest, lots will be aggregated in regional bodegas—with transportation subsidized by the government—and sent for milling with our partners.

While in 2023, we worked with a single miller and exporter based in Puebla for GCP (APG), to expedite consolidating, shipping, and export, for 2024 we have engaged regional dry mills and exporters as service providers for GCP: Cafeco in Veracruz, APG in Puebla, and longtime supply chain partners Coro in Oaxaca:

In GCP’s first year, we bundled payments to producers into a single transaction inclusive of both the base price for the lot as well as any associated quality premium, which was delivered ahead of export. However, requirements of financing institutions to know the exact weight of a final lot delayed the release of funds to growers until milling and cleaning of each lot had been completed; this slowed both payment to producers as well as shipping. To overcome this, for 2024, we are offering two price structures based on whether or not a producer wishes to receive payment immediately or at export. For fastest payment, the base price will be paid immediately upon delivery of a lot with a second payment for the quality premium to follow at export, giving smallholders greater cash flow through the harvest via faster payments while still ensuring a higher price based on the qualities of coffee submitted.

Over time, we hope to move more of our purchasing through programs like this, which we believe has the potential to be transformational: producers whose access to specialty markets was previously restricted due to geography or finances can now compete for the business of long-term, relationship-motivated buyers who pay far above local prices. As an opt-in program built foremost around education and engagement, GCP functions as a sustainable mechanism for the discovery and development of top talent.

As a program of formal knowledge-sharing, agronomic and technical assistance, and cupping feedback coupled with a network of millers, exporters, financiers and buyers, GCP provides a means of aggregating specialty lots from lesser-explored producing regions within Mexico, fulfilling Crop to Cup’s mission of growing smallholder equity by opening access to specialty markets, facilitation of long-term buyer relationships and the support of quality improvement practices that generate value for communities of smallholders.

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Sourcing Philosophy and Green Quality Standards

We use a relationship and impact model of purchasing. This means we aim to: work as closely and directly with suppliers as possible; buy from those same producers each year; and provide support, financing or other resources to those partners based on the year’s commitments, toward improving both financial security and coffee quality. Like everywhere Crop to Cup operates, in Mexico we work to build transparent and traceable supply chains formed around relationships and community impact. Across Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Veracruz and Puebla, we work with teams of skilled cuppers, agronomists and logistics professionals who have the local knowledge, relationships, and experience to guide us toward impactful, scalable and sustainable projects designed to create more equitable economic conditions for coffee growers and their communities.

Over our last few years of imports, we’ve collected physical data from each coffee to best understand how to mitigate the risk of coffee fading prior to arrival. Based on that data, we now require coffees to have a moisture content of 10.0-11.0% (measured on a calibrated Draminsky moisture meter) and water activity of less than 0.55 (measured using an Extech). This way, when coffees arrive—even if they do arrive late—they will still taste fresh and vibrant. Through training and continual feedback through the harvest, it is our goal that no producer submitting coffee for consideration to GCP have their coffee rejected due to moisture and water activity standards.

Every coffee purchased through GCP will be evaluated at least twice—first by our team in Puebla led by Israel Paz and Joz Cortes—and then by our quality team in Brooklyn. We calibrate with the Puebla lab at the start of and throughout the harvest—as well as prior to final contracting and pre-ship sample approval.

We expect offer samples from GCP to begin arriving mid-March with contracts to follow in April. To contract coffees forward on a SAS-PSS basis, contact your trader at Crop to Cup.