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Lush mountains and lofty goals

Nicaragua, September 1, 2004

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Roger Burks/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The production facilities in Monterey, Nicaragua — used by Julio Obeguedo (pictured) and other farmers — are a source of local pride and exceptional coffee. Photo: Roger Burks/Mercy Corps

Julio Obeguedo is determined to reach the top of the coffee world. He's also resolved to lift other local farmers to that lofty goal.

As president of a coffee cooperative in the small town of Monterey, Nicaragua, Obeguedo is certain that the area's coffee is among the best to be found anywhere. Mercy Corps and local partner Asociación Aldea Global Jinotega, a small farmers' association, are helping him and other local farmers prove that to coffee drinkers around the world.

Monterey is situated on pristine, forested mountains about 30 kilometers from Jinotega. Its population lives in modest houses spread out over rolling hills, where banana and other fruit trees abound. The town is unspoiled and peaceful, a haven of serenity.

It wasn't always that way.

Twenty years ago, during the turbulent Nicaraguan civil war, residents of other towns in the area fled to Monterey to escape violence. Back then, the area had no residents and was literally all jungle. Settlers made a home here and have managed to maintain Monterey's lush forests while planting coffee and other crops.

However, despite the extreme care farmers exercise when planting and harvesting their crops. they still can't find Nicaraguan-grown coffee in local stores.

Strangely, most coffee sold in Nicaraguan stores comes from outside of the country, where's its mass-produced by huge companies. That mass-produced, lower-quality coffee is imported to Nicaragua, where it's sold in stores at high prices.

Julio Obeguedo wants to change that. His vision is to have the best quality of Nicaraguan coffee available for both export and local consumption.

The 51 members of APPCO, Monterey's coffee cooperative, are all working toward that goal. They're determined to grow and sell only high-altitude, shade-grown coffee using environmentally-safe organic methods.

The cooperative has over 760 acres planted with this high-quality coffee. Currently, 35 of the cooperative's 51 members have had their fields certified as organic (herbicide and pesticide-free), and the remaining members hope to be certified within a year. The "organic coffee" certification, administered by a variety of fair-trade organizations, is essential for getting the best prices on the worldwide market.

Aldea Global is helping Monterey's coffee farmers every step of the way, from planting to exportation. Farmers are noticing the extra attention they're receiving.

"Other exporters are there when you sign the contract, then there to collect the finished coffee berries, but never there in between," said Obeguedo. "Aldea Global helps us with technical training, finance, economic negotiations - everything."

Unlike other organizations, Aldea Global pays coffee farmers throughout the process: when the crop is planted, throughout the growing season and at harvest. That way, farmers are able to provide for their families' needs all year long.

This unconventional arrangement has enabled Monterey's farming families to weather the coffee crisis as few others have been able to.

Building on their own good fortune, Monterey's farmers are "giving back" to the area. Using the training and support they've received from Aldea Global, the cooperative's members are beginning to help other coffee farmers produce high-quality coffee crops.

"We want to show the world that Jinotega is a coffee capital," said Obeguedo.

As new generations come of age in Monterey, a tranquil town amid the trees, they will carry on in much the same way as those who moved here just two decades ago. Julio Obeguedo wants to pass one very important tradition on to them: pride in the coffee they grow.

For more information on Aldea Global, please visit the association's web site at www.PAGJINO.org.