Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Search for Organic Coffee in Guatemala

Salam alaikom! I am covered in mosquito bites but loving life. I arrived in Guatemala last week to visit my family and do a feasibility study on whether I could export organic, regenerative coffee and cardamom from here to the Middle East. I use the term regenerative in place of sustainability based on what I have learned from my study on coffee in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I will elaborate on these terms more later. At any rate, since arriving in the Middle East, I noticed that coffee is a big part of Arab culture. It is also served in small cups as it is in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Coffee is always offered as it is an element of hospitability in the Middle East. There are two main ways it is prepared; Turkish style which is similar to espresso, and then prepared almost like tea and served in little glasses without handles. The beans are mostly from India or Brazil, although some is still coming from Yemen, which seems to be the favorite among the Arabs. When the coffee is purchased, it is ground together with almost equal parts of cardamom pods. Cardamom, like the coffee, is a big part of the staple food selection in the Middle East. It is used in drinks, desserts, foods every day. I felt that coffee could serve as a bridge between the Middle East and Latin America, so I decided I would begin exporting some regenerative coffee from Guatemala and Costa Rica to Kuwait since it is still not readily available. I also learned that the number one exporter of cardamom to the Middle East is Guatemala, but that most if not all of it is not organic. So I decided since cardamom is also a big part of Guatemalan infustry and a big part of the Arab diet that I would also export it.

After the coffee study program in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I came to Guatemala to visit my family and show some of my closest friends around the country while I search for some good, organically grown cardamom and coffee. I found one farm that was established with the German coffee planters early on, that grows both cardamom and coffee. The only catch was that it would take a 5 hour hike and a 4 hour bus ride to get to, according to a book I had. We took a 1030 bus from Guatemala City toward Coban to a place called San Rafael Chilasco. The Bus dropped us off on the main road and then we waited for a van to take us into the 12 km dirt road. We caught one just before it began to pour, however, the van was already packed. There were about 31 people in that little van. It was definitely an uunforgettable moment. When we arrived in Chilasco, the lady in the tourist information center sent us down into the town with a little boy on a bicycle. I use the term for town loosely as it is a very rural area with little of the typical resources we are used to finding in a town. We got there to meet our guide who would be leading us on the 5 hour hike. unfortunately, the guide was no longer available as he had just left with another group, and not only that, they explained that the hike takes 3 days, not 5 hours!! We spent a couple of hours there trying to arrange for a guide, but finally we found out we could just drive there.

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How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.