Kiyomi Beach | KF17 | Mexico
La Unión Regional de Pequeños Productores de Café Huatusco (La Unión Regional) is Kiva’s first non-microfinance institution partner in Latin America. It’s a member-owned coffee cooperative dedicated to helping their largely rural, low-income members bring their coffee to market at a fair price.
By partnering with organizations other than microfinance institutions, Kiva is able to provide much-needed support to individuals who would typically not have access to credit. And, while there are other micro-lenders in the small city of Huatusco, their reach is limited, and the costs can be high for the borrowers. La Unión Regional offers loans to provide support for their members in a way that encourages hard work and helps them achieve their goals.
More on La Unión Regional
Operating in the small city of Huatusco, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, La Unión Regional is a Fair Trade-certified cooperative focused on ensuring that their members, who own small parcels of land, get a fair price for the coffee they produce. Founded in 1982, the organization currently has over 2,000 participating members who produce and process coffee in the communities surrounding the city of Huatusco. This region is known for producing high-quality coffee, which you can find at your local Tully’s and other Green Mountain Coffee distributors. La Unión Regional is partnering with Kiva to provide loans to help members plan for the long-term, which can be difficult when living from harvest to harvest.
In addition to helping small farmers compete with large-scale coffee producers, the cooperative provides other means of social assistance. These services include scholarships for primary and secondary school, health clinics, technical assistance related to coffee production, and now low-interest lending with Kiva.
These loans take into consideration the unique needs of coffee producers and are timed accordingly. Loans are disbursed in time for planting, pruning, and other post-harvest chores, and are paid back at the end of the harvest when the producers have the cash to pay. Farmers even have the option of paying back the loans with coffee, which is done when they bring their harvested coffee to La Unión Regional for processing and exportation. It is important that the loans have maximum flexibility, so that farmers don’t feel burdened by debt. Additionally, all members who receive a loan are offered technical support in reaching their goals, which include to improving their yields or converting from conventional to organic coffee production.
Getting out in the Field
I was lucky enough to be in the field when La Unión Regional first presented the loan program to its members. Most of the farmers that I spoke to were excited about participating, and the opportunity to grow. While every producer has a unique story, one reoccurring theme was family and community. Many of the people I spoke to became coffee producers because they grew up around coffee. Some hope to increase their production because they want their children to continue with their education, or follow in their footsteps continuing with the “family business.”
About a quarter of La Unión Regional’s members are women. I had the opportunity to spend time with a few of them. While walking to her mountainside parcel, Teresa, a member since 2000, shared her story with me. She has been around coffee her whole life and loves working in the fields. She spent a few years working in Mexico City before returning to work her own parcel of land that was sold to her by a family member. If given the choice to do whatever she wanted, she would still be working the fields because it’s what she loves. She currently has only one parcel of land, but hopes to increase production and buy another parcel to bring in more income so that her and her husband can afford to send their children to school.
As I walked up the narrow, steep path to her parcel, she greeted neighbors and pointed out fellow members’ parcels. When we finally arrived, the views of the valley below from her parcel were incredible. She was proud of her work and to show me her land.
Additionally, Maria, a coffee producer since marrying at the age of 14, insisted that I share a freshly-roasted coffee with her from her personal supply and invited me into her home. She showed me where she roasted the coffee and gave me a tour of her modest house. Maria, Teresa, and many others demonstrated the kindness that people of the region are known for. Everyone that I came across was a hard worker, and proud to share this part of their lives with me.
I look forward to seeing the impact that Kiva loans have on these families and communities.
Kiyomi Beach is a Kiva Fellow in Mexico with La Unión Regional. Join their lending team and be one of the first to lend to the coffee producers of Huatusco. You can also buy their coffee at Tully’s or other Green Mountain Coffee distributors. Prior to her time in Huatusco, Kiyomi worked with Fundacion Realidad (FRAC) in Mexico City.