The journey of Nicaraguan Fairtrade coffee grower Erika Lanzas
Erika Lanzas from the Co-operative Union, SOPPEXCCA in northern Nicaragua is an organic Fairtrade coffee grower, a member of a co-operative, a mother and grandmother and an entrepreneur. In addition to coffee Erika also grows vegetables and fruit for family consumption and to sell locally.
* From 11 – 27 April Erika visited London and Bristol as a guest of NSC and Bristol Link with Nicaragua (BLINC).
Generations of her family have lived in the small rural community of El Salto, northern Nicaragua, where people live from agriculture: some have small holdings where they grow maize and beans, some farm as individual families, others are members of co-operatives.
Many don’t own enough land to make a decent living so supplement their income by working as labourers on large plantations or spend part of the year working in precarious circumstances in Costa Rica.
Erika described the tough life she experienced as a child especially after her father left the family when she was eleven. This meant that she was only able to go to school for three years but then her role was confined to helping her mother in the house.
The life she now leads is in great contrast to the situation she faced when she was young. She is now a single mother living with four of her children and grandchildren and owns a hectare of land called La Libertad.
Since 2012 Erika as been a member of SOPPEXCCA and her local 19 person co-operative called Arlen Siu, named after a Sandinista singer/songwriter who died in 1975 at the age of 20 in the insurrection that led to the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship.
Erika described with pride the advantages of being in a Co-op: a greater sense of solidarity and sharing, developing ways in which stereotypes, roles and barriers can be broken down, gender training for both women and men, and taking decisions about projects that the Co-op can undertake together.
As with farmers globally, the escalating climate crisis has brought severe challenges: more frequent hurricanes and periods of intense rain and wind, erratic temperatures, drought and floods. This has meant roads, bridges and crops washed away; rising temperatures brings an increase in crop diseases. All these factors make it difficult to control quality and quantity of coffee.
SOPPEXCCA offers members training in mitigating and adapting to the crisis. This includes how to detect disease well in advance, and good farming practices such as constant monitoring. Erika stressed the importance of making sure that everything they do helps to conserve biodiversity.
Since being a member of SOPPEXCCA and her coffee being sold through Fairtrade, the lives of Erika, her family and community have seen substantial improvements. They have been able to buy a new roof of their house, replacing one that constantly leaked, and to build an inside toilet replacing a latrine in the yard. Erika has also been able to buy a wet processing mill for de-pulping coffee giving her greater control over the quality of her coffee.
During her visit to London and Bristol Erika visited farmers markets, a Transition Towns event, schools, colleges, businesses, community organisations and farms, to share her experience of what difference Fairtrade makes, and how her family and community farm in a way that protects biodiversity and provides them with an income.
‘Fairtrade helps us to achieve our goals: diversification of production, promotion of gender equality including land and credit for our members especially women, production of high quality shade grown coffee, environmental protection; and fully incorporating young people into all our work.’ Fatima Ismael, general manager SOPPEXCCA
* Erika is the 17th woman Fairtrade producer that BLINC has brought to Bristol from Nicaragua including ten SOPPEXCCA representatives. With support from the NSC, Bristol and South Glos Fairtrade networks, and the University of Bath, BLINC has impacted over 20,000 local children through this initiative. ----------------------------------------------
SOPPEXCCA website www.soppexcca.org.ni