Processing coffee for export in Oaxaca. Processing coffee for export in Oaxaca.

Coffee helps preserve indigenous culture

Despite roya fungus, indigenous producers in Oaxaca continue to export their product

Despite the challenges of a fungus that has had disastrous effects on production, the coffee harvested in the Mixtec-Zapotec sierra of the Isthmus region in Oaxaca continues to be exported to five European countries and Canada through the efforts of a collective.

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Known as Café Uciri, the arabica coffee is grown by small communities and producers and distributed by an umbrella organization called the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region.

Established in 1982, Uciri is the oldest coffee organization in the state of Oaxaca and began by bringing together producers from 17 communities, all interested in improving their cultivation and sales techniques, as well as the farmers’ living conditions.

Thirty-five years later, the organization has more than 2,000 members in 56 Zapotec, Mixtec, Chontal, Chatino and Mixe indigenous communities.

Their export-grade organic coffee has become a known Oaxaca product in countries like Sweden, Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Canada, as well as in several states of Mexico.

Huveiman Ruiz Vásquez, a Zapotec man from the town and municipality of Santiago Lachiguiri, is one of the producers, and has dedicated more than 20 years to the coffee industry, from seeding to packaging.

“I grew up among coffee trees; I inherited this trade from my father, as he did from his. In the sierra, coffee is part of us and we respect it,” Ruiz told the newspaper El Universal.

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“I know the raw material, that’s how I learned to classify it, to know its tastes and its quality. Here in Uciri we produce the best coffee,” said the proud coffee producer, or cafetalero.

But the coffee fungus has had its effects.

A couple of years ago, before the onslaught of roya, or coffee leaf rust, Uciri’s storage facility received between 800 and 900 tonnes of coffee beans a year. After the fungus devastated the crops, the figure plunged to barely 50 tonnes last year.

Still, the collective of small producers toils on, the spirited farmers eagerly adhering to certified organic and ecologically-sound cultivation methods.

Through Uciri small coffee producers have the opportunity to reach distant markets and sell their product at competitive prices while preserving indigenous cultures and traditions.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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