EARTH SANGHA | TREE BANK HISPANIOLA: 2011 LOG (EXCERPTS FROM THE MAIN NEWS LOG)
September 27: Our Tree Bank / Hispaniola's "Rising Forests" coffee is now available for sale! Read Chris’s note of September 27.
September 23: We funded our second batch of Tree Bank / Hispaniola “Forest Credit” loans today. Our Forest Credit program launched earlier this month. (See the entry for September 9.) The program extends small lines of credit to our Tree Bank farmers, who live along a section of the Dominican Republic – Haiti border, to help them improve their farming. In exchange, the farmers must set up permanent forest-conservation easements, to help conserve patches of native forest that survive on their lands. It took a couple of years to get agreement on how the system should work, but things have finally come together. So far, we have made 16 loans in all, totaling about $5,800, in exchange for easements amounting to a little under 51 acres. We plan to make more loans, and expand the lines of credit that we have already extended, but we think it’s important to proceed at a measured pace, so that we can fix any problems that come up, while those problems are still small.
September 9: After more than two years of planning, talking, and fundraising, our Tree Bank / Hispaniola “Forest Credit” program made its first loans today! The program will extend long-term, low-cost lines of credit to participating farms, in exchange for forest easements on their properties. Credit limits are relatively modest, and linked to the size and condition of the easements; credit limits will rise (or fall) depending on how well borrowers manage their loans.
Our farmers need to borrow in order to plant their cash crops, but up to now, they have not had access to reasonably priced credit, and that has been a big problem for them. Many of them end up borrowing at loan-shark rates that cost them most of their harvest proceeds and that keep them poor, no matter how hard they work. Our Forest Credit program is the first low-cost farm credit program in the region, and the first forest easement system. We think the program has huge potential—for both the farms and the forests—but we’re starting small and working with care. Today we made nine loans, totaling a little over $3,000; those loans are matched by easements amounting to about 34.5 acres. We’re off to a solid start, and our farmers are very enthusiastic about this program! Chris Bright will quote some of our farmers about this program in his next entry in Speaking Broadly.
September 5: Bad weather, bad news. Gaspar, our Tree Bank / Hispaniola Project Director, just sent word today that Hurricane Irene scored a direct hit on our Tree Bank nursery. All of the nursery’s shade cloth has been shredded, and it will all have to be replaced. We don’t yet know how much that will cost, but it is likely to come to a couple of thousand dollars. If you’re interested in the Tree Bank, now would be a great time to make a donation!
September 3: Matt and Chris spent most of Saturday afternoon testing our Tree Bank coffee, by roasting little batches of it for different lengths of time, and tasting the results. Our work differed in a couple of important respects from that of professional coffee evaluators, as follows. 1: We weren’t very good at it. And 2: We swallowed all the coffee that we tasted, so we were extremely alert and talkative by the end of our session. Results in brief: this stuff is really good! We were trying to figure out where in the roasting spectrum our coffee tastes best, and we’re thinking a kind of medium to dark Vienna. We hope that sounds like something you would want in your cup!
August 19: Finally, after nearly three years of work, the first shipment of coffee from our Tree Bank farmers has arrived in the United States, and is now stashed safely in a warehouse in Jessup, Maryland—thanks in large measure to Amy Frey. Amy is president of the import / export firm ATC International; she has been helping us negotiate the complexities of bringing a food product into the United States. We’re importing our farmers’ coffee to help them make money—our farmers are very poor—and to add value to the forests that remain on their land. Virtually all coffee in our project region is shade-grown; by buying it, we are helping the forests pay for themselves.
Our first shipment is small—only 167 kilos—but that will be enough to get us started. We wanted to import more but, as so frequently happens in our project region, circumstances were not exactly favorable. First, a prolonged drought during the first half of the year forced several of our farmers to withdraw their coffee from our program because they wanted to sell it immediately—a sad situation for everyone involved, since as soon as we heard about this, we offered to pay them (and everyone else) immediately. And our buying price is guaranteed to be at least 10% higher than the current standard price for “Gold Selection” coffee, the top Dominican grade. But several people just panicked anyway and sold at a lower rate. And then, because our farmers aren’t yet used to growing for export, they didn’t prepare and harvest all of the coffee as well as they could have, thereby reducing the amount that qualified for that top “Gold Selection” grade, which is the only grade that we will buy. And finally, after our precious Gold Selection beans had been all cleaned up and bagged, someone stole eight kilos of them! But despite all that, the stuff is now here—most of it anyway—and we’re learning. Next time, things will go more smoothly. To find out more about our coffee program, click the Coffee tab on the Tree Bank / Hispaniola page. And we’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available!
July 25: Our freight forwarder in the Dominican Republic tells us that, at long last, our first batch of Tree Bank coffee has finally shipped! We have been trying for nearly three years to develop a coffee export program for our Tree Bank farmers, as a way of improving their incomes, and adding economic value to their remaining forests. In our project area, virtually all coffee is shade-grown; by buying it, we are helping to supply an economic rationale for preserving and restoring forest. It will probably be a couple more weeks before the coffee arrives at the ATC International warehouse in Maryland. We’ll let you know when it’s available!