Monthly news magazine for Roatan,
Utila & Guanaja
November 2006 Vol.4 No.11
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feature story / editorial / local news / business

by Thomas Tomczyk

The Honduran Coffee Bean

An American/Roatan transplant to Copan Ruinas finds new methods at growing and selling coffee

Honduras' Biggest Export
Since 1997 the price of coffee on the world market has halved, reaching its lowest point in September 2001. But for the 115,000 Honduran coffee farmers, tables are slowly turning. The country, one of the world's top ten coffee producers, is slowly gaining a better renown on the world coffee markets and Honduras' World Arabica coffee prices have doubled from 63 cent per pound in 2003 to $1.18 in 2006.
Coffee accounted for 21.6% of all Honduran exports in 2002 and revenues increased to $182.5 million, still well below the $340 million recorded in 2000. The crop still remains Honduras's biggest export, ahead of bananas and shellfish. Several foreigners are involved in producing the country's top quality coffee. Here is a story of one of them, who's roots are very much tied with Bay Islands.
The Beginning
Lloyd Davidson is tall, slim and energetic, His appearance could be summed-up with one word: driven. Lloyd's fame as a successful founder and owner of a fishing and packing plant "Flying Fish" on Roatan, preceded him to the hills of Copan.
The local coffee growers used to call Lloyd and his crew 'los Camaroneros' [the shrimpers], but the Americans soon found a helping hand and advice among several of the local community members. Some of them realized that even though Lloyd knew relatively little about coffee growing, he knew much more than any of them about selling and marketing this product.
In 2001 Lloyd launched his Miramundo coffee brand, marked with a recognizable toucan logo and decided to have his finca [farm] be an environmental leader in the area.
There are several designations that an eco-coffee farm can strive for: sustainable coffee, eco-sustainable coffee, bird friendly coffee, shade grown coffee, organic coffee. "Most people in the coffee industry don't understand this designation, much less the consumer," says Lloyd. "Organic is pretty extreme and most people just can't afford to play with it." Miramundo follows the eco-sustainable coffee guidelines outlined by Rainforest Alliance. Farms that don't damage the environment, treat the workers fairly, etc.
During his second season in the coffee business, Lloyd was already making sales to Europe and the news of the unconventional Yankee traveled fast. Honduran coffee buyers noticed the potential of Lloyd's business approach. " These guys don't know what they are doing… yet. But, they listen and I recommend we start working with them,'" said Lloyd about one of the first coffee buyers who came to Miramundo.
Lloyd, one of only handful foreign coffee growers in Honduras joined the country's specialty growers association. Still there are other Americans in the Honduran coffee business. Another quality coffee, Buenas Dias Coffee of Olancho, is owned by another American living in Roatan.
The Farm
The road to the Miramundo finca leads up a seven kilometer road up the mountains. From there a vista of green tranquility and rolling hilltops provides a 360 degree panorama.
The hills around Copan Ruinas are covered in pine and thick and deep green coffee plants. The slopes, with their thick coat of topsoil and organic matter, are gradually turned into terraces to prevent erosion and ease work on the plants. Bananas and guillero plants are planted to provide the shade for the developing coffee. They will provide shade for the first two to three years until the coffee plants are mature.
Even though Miramundo coffee is shade grown, since it is grown on high altitude, the cloud presence reduces their dependency of shade trees. Too much shade will produce a beautiful leafy plant, but with few coffee beans.
The finca that Lloyd found east of Copan Ruinas was planted with coffee plants only two years before he bought it in 1999 from a Honduran preacher turned Coffee planter. After coffee prices hit their highest in the nineties, the industry has attracted people from around Honduras. Then the bottom fell out as world prices plummeted, and "Everything was for sale," says Lloyd. "This guy was lucky enough to find some idiot from Tennessee that was willing to take it over."
The Miramundo finca spans the hilltops and valleys around Miramundo mountain between 1,100 and 1,250 meters. Of its 140 acres, 60-70 acres are devoted to coffee at 1,800 coffee plants per acre, or around 120 thousand plants on the entire finca. Lloyd plans another 10 acres of coffee leaving the other 60 as natural forests for nature trails and eco tourism. There are two natural waterfalls, a swimming pool, and trails around the finca. Lloyd plans to add another 10 acres of coffee plants.
Catamore vs. Catoaee
Lloyd has based much of his coffee planting and producing strategy on the Guatemalan Coffee Institute guidelines. "The locals [Honduran] guys were telling us we were doing everything wrong," explains Lloyd. "But we decided we will give it a try." Even though the Honduran coffee institute encourages the planting of the Cartamore coffee plant ,Lloyd explains that the Cartamore coffee plant is much more susceptible to fungal diseases above 1,000 meter.
Catamore, a smooth tasting bean, works best in low altitudes and many coffee farmers that decided to plant Cartamore on mountain slopes, are now in a constant struggle with the fungi during the more humid months of November and December.
The Catoaee brand was a better option for Miramundo and in September 2005 Lloyd decided to switch, and over the next two years replace every Cartamore plant with its more sturdy, altitude resistant, Catoaee equivalent.For the first two to three years, banana trees are used to shade the Catoaee plants. After that Guaomo legume trees are planted to provide the shade to the now three to four feet high plant. Guamo trees also trap the needed nitrogen in the soil and are used as firewood by the locals. "Your production has a lot to do with fertilization, weeding, and maintenance of the shade," explains Lloyd.A coffee plant can be harvested two years after planting. The maturity is reached when the plant is four years old and plants are harvested until they are 10 to 12 years old, and begin to produce fewer beans. At that point the plant can be either ripped out and substituted by another, or cut back to 16 inches above the soil. In Honduras, the practice of trimming the plant is used more frequently. From the most productive plants three to four sprouts are chosen to form a seedling for another generation of coffee plants.
This cutting and plant managing is constantly done across most fincas in Honduras. Typically on the country's coffee fincas, the plants are trimmed three to four times before being completely replaced, but there are also fincas with plants as old 70-80 years.
The plants will typically be picked through, or cut, five to six times during the November-February coffee harvest season. The two cuts in the middle of the season account for 60% and some of the best quality of the entire product. Still, the quality of Honduran coffee is not considered as good as that of Guatemala or Costa Rica, and many of the country's growers struggle to receive an independent assessment of their coffee product in order to get better prices at world markets.
To avoid being dependent on the plants of the Honduran institute, three years ago Lloyd started his own coffee plant nursery. The beans from the most productive plants are dried to about 26% and planted in plastic bags, placed in shade and prepared for planting. Underneath fern shade canopies, Lloyd has produced around 25-30 thousand coffee plants, that he has re-planted around the finca.
Water for Coffee
The coffee plantation is very water intensive. To maximize water use, Miramundo finca's five springs are dammed and piped to a water pool. Even planting is typically done when there is two-three months of good rain: September, October or May, June.
At the farm, a 90-foot-long Ecosystem gravity water machine, separates beans based on size and weight. In the process the machine washes and de-pulps the coffee beans. "God made it that good beans sink and bad beans float," says Lloyd. Using that basic principle, coffee beans are separated into good and bad, washed and then peeled from the pulp. The beans are separated into first, second and third quality and left overnight to ferment. Saul Alvarez, the farm manager for four years, is responsible for the day to day operations.
Once the water is used to wash the beans, it becomes extremely rich with nutrients and potentially harmful in its rich content. To lessen this impact, the water is not dumped directly into the ground, but sprayed over vast areas around the finca. Another way of dealing with used water- evaporation ponds, were not considered because of how smelly and insect- producing they can be.
After that the beans are sun dried and packed into bags. After a few weeks the coffee will be roasted, and some of it will be grounded and packaged in sacks or plastic airtight bags with the Miramundo toucan logo. Beans, dried to about 10-12%, are ready for export. In 2005 Miramundo harvested around 100-120 thousand pounds of coffee which in the end produced 50-60 tons of dried, roasted coffee.
The Coffee Picker
In Honduras, a typical day laboring coffee picker, is paid per volume, or per five gallon bucket. "To be more precise, we tried to shift them to get paid in pounds, but that didn't fly and we almost had a revolution," says Lloyd. Miramundo's between 20 to 200 daily pickers are paid a bit more per bucket than they would at surrounding farms. "We get them a couple lempiras extra, telling them to focus on the red beans and minimalize the green beans," says Lloyd. "That has a lot to do with the quality of coffee."
The best pickers pick as many as six buckets a day. But a 'picker' isn't always one person ,as sometimes an entire family will work as a unit: mother working the top of the coffee plant, while bigger children pick the middle and small ones, picking the bottom of every plant. The school year in Honduras' coffee growing seasons accommodates the necessity for children's help in the coffee picking season. While one can't get rich picking coffee beans, the harvest supports hundreds of local families.
A Honduran coffee picker is paid as little as one dollar for five gallon of coffee beans.
The pay that a picker receives, is directly related to world coffee prices, and in early 2006 they were paid Lps. 20-22 a bucket. But when the coffee prices hit bottom in 2001 the pickers worked for as little as Lps. 10. The workers aren't too happy about providing their name to the finca. As many are illiterate they typically just make a mark confirming that they received a payment for the two weeks of work.
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by Thomas Tomczyk
The Unapalogetic Islam
I often hear pragmatic westerners pronounce either one of two generalizing phrases about religion. One- "All religions are good, same in principles and bound to live together peacefully." The other- "all religions are basically the same: violent and deceitful."
I believe neither of these points of views is true. Religions are not the same. They provide different approaches to interfaith existence, behaviour and some have basic fundamental flaws. There is very little dialog about these controversial topics.
Discussing relations between faiths, their conflicts, contradictions, and history is a taboo. The religious conflicts that saturate the news pages in the West are stereotyped as ethnic and racial. There is a confusion of terms and inability to even correctly label them: religious cleansing, ethnic cleansing, racism. The militant Islam is called fascist, the religious terrorists are mislabeled insurgents. The West is unable to face or analyze the threat to its core existence.
While Western materialism has rendered much of the Christian beliefs irrelevant to European lives, the westerners are wrong to assume that religion will become irrelevant to people who move there from other parts of the religious world.
Some religions have in the past integrated into the European and American melting pots, others have not. Islam has a history and principles that forbid such integration, and nothing, despite wishful thinking on part of many Europeans, has shown to contradict this phenomena.
How can the West deal with unapologetic, angry, unforgiving, and accusatory Islam, while western leaders are excusing Muslims as victims and the West is readily accepting the role of the victimizer? The common version of events, is that West was and still is, a colonizer, responsible for genocide of Jews, the Crusades, etc. Guilt, a natural feeling in the Judeo-Christian culture has dominated the West's core to the point of self hatred. Westerners are readily accepting blame for past and present, blaming their church leaders, or imperialist, colonial past.
Muslims are well organized and voice their protests on a global scale when they feel their faith is being attacked by cartoons, medieval papal quotations, or interrogation techniques. I see apologies and acts of contrition coming from Popes, European politicians, and US presidents. They in turn are unwilling to judge by the same token the violent and atrocious acts of beheadings, bombings and Islamic press ridicule done by Muslims. What I never saw was an apology from an Islamic group, or prominent Islamic leaders.
One of the problems in getting such statements, is that Islam, which unlike Christianity or Buddhism, is a decentralized religion, lacks religious authorities on global scale. There is also the concept of 'tribal' solidarity of not going against your Muslim enemy if he is at war with non-Muslim is a simple fact. This is also the principal reason why no Iraqi people directly help or inform the US against fighting the foreign born jihadists. Muslims would rather be wrong together than right divided.
While Europeans remain paralyzed in what to do with their 20 million Muslim minority, most of them don't realize that several western European countries had substantial Muslim populations in the past, following centuries of Islamic conquests and expansion. When after countries they regained control of their Muslim occupied lands, Muslims were forced to convert and integrated into the society, or had to leave. Spain, Portugal, France, Sicily, Greece all made these choices.
This is by no means an uncommon practice in the Muslim world. As recently as the 20th century, Turkey's Armenians, the Algerian French, or Italians in Libya all had to leave their Muslim dominated birthplace. In Honduras, tens of thousands of Christian Arabs from Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan fled Islamic religious persecution to settle here in the early 20th century.
Islam is the only religion which punishes apostasy by death. Forbidding members of a religion or any organization to leave by threat of death, as uncomfortable as it may read, is a definition of a cult.
Muslim minorities as a rule, after centuries of living in their host nations, weather in China, Thailand, and Poland, never integrated into their non-Muslim host societies. Why? "Our beliefs are superior. We will never integrate," said a British Muslim being Interviewed on BBC. Such candid expressions to the non Muslim public are rare, but reflect a universal belief of the Muslims towards all other religions.
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by Thomas Tomczyk

Fire Destroys 15 Houses
La Loma residents on the site of the fire. Olga Rodriguez (owner of burned Tienda Nena), Juana Velasquez (owner of burned house), Carolina Brooks (owner of burned JC Penney store) and Nora White (Neighbor).
Organizations and churches like Little Friends Foundation, ORDECIB, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist Church immediately stepped in to provide meals and clothing for the victims. For three weeks following the fire, the victims received food and clothing.The very high occupancy rate and dense, wood construction provided an opportunity for the fire to catch and spread quickly. According to Joseph Solomon, Chief of Roatan Municipal Police, in one case one room was occupied by two adults and eight children. In total 135 people from 28 families were displaced. 75% of them were Mosquito Indian families from the coast who rented apartments in La Loma, while the men worked on French Harbour fishing vessels."We blame RECO for the fire," said Nova White, 58, one of the La Loma residents, who said that the fire was caused by sparks generated by the company's faulty equipment. In the days following the fire, Bay Islands Governor, Roatan Mayor, Bay Islands Congressman and even President Mel Zelaya visited the site of the fire.
La Loma residents believe that the Honduran government, through its disaster relief organization COPECO, and local government, will step in and rebuild their houses. A similar precedent gives them hope, when in 1993 another fire destroyed 12 houses in La Loma in an area directly adjacent to the recent fire.
The cause of the fire is believed to have been caused by an accident and the Honduran government rebuilt the houses, giving the residents a long term loan to pay for the reconstruction. "Some people repaid the government loans, others are still paying and others never did," said Nora White, 58, La Loma resident.
Fifteen wood and concrete houses in French Harbour's La Loma neighborhood burned to the ground on October 13. At 1:30am fire engulfed a wood structure just south of the French Harbour Bus station. The density of the development was such that the changing wind carried flames from one structure to the next, eventually engulfing 15 homes, six of which were used also as stores.
Private water trucks owned by Woods Supply, Kenny McNab, Dale Jackson and water pumps provided by Bob McNab, amongst others, supplied water to the fire truck that, according to several residents, arrived at the scene around 2:30am. "Some people were helping, some were stealing, it was a bit of everything," described Orlando White, 27, La Loma resident who helped during the fire. Some people carried seawater in buckets. By 4:30am, after three hours, the fire was contained.No one died during the fire, but Doña Angelia was hospitalized with severe burns as the fire engulfed her house and only her grandson Jossie was able to take her out from the burning structure.
Drug Bust at Roatan Airport

Middle of the night seizure of 2000 kilos of cocaine off a private plane

Honduran Anti Drug Agents and Preventiva police unload seized 2000 kilo of cocaine at the Mud Hole garbage dump to be destroyed. With US street value of one kilo of cocaine at $180,000 the burn destroyed $360 million of the illegal product, or 64% percent of the country's foreign aid budget, or around 20% of Honduras' annual foreign exports. US embassy officials were not present during the procedure.

As drug traffickers alternate between Guanaja, Utila, and Roatan airports as their Columbia to US half way drug runs, a major drug bust takes place on Manuel Galvez runway. On November 4, around 1am, a 10 seat Columbian registered Cesna airplane, landed at Roatan Airport.
Four Columbian men traveling in the plane were assisted by people on the ground in unloading 2000 kilos of cocaine. This was transferred to a white, covered truck, and they began to refuel the Cesna airplane. Tourist officers from Coxen Hole station located barely 100 meters from the airport, were alerted by the noise of the landing aircraft and contacted the Preventiva police. The police arrived at the scene within 20 minutes.
12 people were arrested: four Columbian nationals, two of them pilots, and eight Hondurans. The arrests included six airport officials: a tower control supervisor, Inters Roatan Airport manager, and several airport security employees were arrested.

A small boat was found near the airport.
Later in the morning, Alan Padilla, La Ceiba Airports Interairports chief, took over the administration of Roatan's airport which remained closed until 10:30 am. Honduras' antinarcotics director, general Julián Arístides González, was directing the investigation.
While landing and drug transfers are not unusual on Guanaja and Utila, Roatan International Airport has been les vulnerable to these actions. Honduran police suspect that as military and naval forces were taking action to limit the use of Guanaja's airport by drug traffickers, it is probable that the traffickers decided to move their operations to Roatan.
In 2006 the Honduran navy confiscated 14 speed boats and eight fishing vessels in relation to drug trafficking. Also three airplanes were seized, two of them on Roatan.
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A Peace of Mind by Julia Vadurro

Bay Islands' Insurance Businesses Provide Affordable Ways to Protect Your Assets
Have you heard the story of the airplane that accidentally leaked "blue ice" while flying over a residential area and sent the frozen delivery careening through someone's roof? Well, if you haven't heard about it, it can happen. It's messy, and you may want to consider insuring yourself against such an unwanted delivery.
Things falling from airplanes are just one of the many risks you can insure yourself against on Roatan and the Bay Islands. We talked with Roatan insurance agents Arlie Thompson and Giovanni Silvestri to get the lowdown on what you should know about insurance on the island.
Insurance on Roatan is underwritten by Seguros El Ahorro Hondureño S.A., a company that has been in operation since 1917 and boasts Banco del Istmo, one of the largest financial groups in Central America, as its primary shareholder. Seguros El Ahorro Hondureño is internationally rated AA- in the Fitch Risk Classification system- the highest rating among Honduran financial institutions in banking and insurance. The rating is assigned based in part on the stability of the primary shareholder and in part on the stability of the company itself, in terms of debt capacity, reserve coverage, and availability of funds.
The growth of the insurance industry here on the island has mirrored the growth of the foreign community and is growing steadily. Insurance, in all of its forms, is available to both Hondurans and foreigners. Temporary visitors, however, are uninsurable by island insurance agents and should seek special travel insurance plans in their country of origin.
Although a growing number of native islanders insure their homes, health, and property, Arlie Thompson of A.T. Insurance, estimates that his clientele are 60% foreign and only 40% Honduran. Beside Thompson's French Harbour office there are two other insurance agents in the island department: Giovanni Silvestri in French Harbour and Kent Wildt in Coxen Hole.
When considering insurance there are three main categories to look into: personal, business and property. Life and health insurances are the best way to financially insure your person and your family against health related accidents, sickness, disabilities and/or deaths that may result in lack of income. Property insurance can protect your home and assets, depending on the plan, against fire, theft, natural disasters and even malicious acts or riots. With just a little tweaking this type of plan becomes suited for a business instead of an individual.

In terms of health insurance, there are various plans that can insure you and your family ranging in coverage from $325,000 to $2 million. The insurance ranges from Central American to International coverage, including evacuation services should Honduran facilities not be able to meet your care needs.
Children are covered on the parent's plan until they reach the age of 21 or are no longer full-time students. Although no plan may be cancelled at any point, they are not without exclusions. For island residents who dive: the bends are not covered. "Scuba diving," says Arlie Thompson, "is considered to be a high-risk activity, which is therefore excluded from all health insurance policies." Other exclusions include any pre-existing illnesses as well as the purchase of a medical plan after the age of 62.
Property insurance is designed to protect a family and their assets from common risks such as theft, personal accidents, etc. A basic plan can be upgraded to include fire, flooding, natural disasters, riots, smoke, vehicle collision, and objects falling from airplanes. It is also possible to take out a plan insuring electronic equipment.
One of the most important and easiest forms of insurance overlooked on Roatan and Utila, is auto insurance. In Honduras auto insurance is not mandatory unless the purchase of the car is being financed. However, with the growing number of vehicles on the island, most of which are uninsured, Thompson believes that auto insurance may be the most important type of insurance to consider when settling here on Roatan. Other means of transportation such as boats and planes can also be insured on the island.

No. 4
May 8

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Vol4 No. 11