Honduras Strives to Conquer Foreign Markets With Bespoke Coffee Variety

Now also grown in Nicaragua, the Parainema variety developed in Honduras is good quality, produces higher yields and is proving to be resilient to stem rust, a type of fungus that affects coffee plantations

Parainema coffee beans growing in El Paraíso, in eastern Honduras.
December 01, 2022 | 02:28 PM

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San Pedro Sula, Honduras — Since last year’s harvest, producers in Matagalpa in central Nicaragua began planting Parainema, a coffee variety originating from Honduras, which, in addition to increasing production, has been of very high quality.

The bean has been developed since the 1980s in the laboratories of the Honduran Coffee Institute (Ihcafé) and after its release in 2004 showed resistance to stem rust, a fungus that attacks coffee plantations, for at least 15 seasons. Stem rust, which is one of the most lethal fungi for coffee, affected 53% of the productive area in Central America in 2013.

Ihcafé technicians have said in research that resistance to stem rust is not permanent in the improved varieties of coffee, and its permanence is unpredictable as it depends on the interaction between the fungus, climate and the plant over time, but beyond those concerns, the Parainema variety has been well received for its flavor.

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Two coffee growers won in 2015 and 2017, respectively, the national edition of the Cup of Excellence (COE) with the Parainema variety, a prestigious competition that acknowledges quality and results in the awarded grains being offered among foreign buyers.

Differentiating Honduran coffee

Honduras is seeking to promote its coffee abroad, and the Café Inclusivo project of Swisscontact has, together with Ihcafé and the Women’s Coffee Growers’ Alliance (Amucafé) and other organizations yrecently traveled to the US and South Korea to spread the word about the Central American country’s coffee.

“Coffee is the main product of Honduran agricultural exports and involves a lot of families, but in general we have significant challenges to selling our coffee and generate greater revenues for our varieties of coffee,” Liliana Sánchez, Honduras country director at Swisscontact, told Bloomberg Línea.

The Café Inclusivo (Inclusive Coffee) project aims to strengthen the efforts that associations and cooperatives have been making for years, to differentiate Honduran coffee, either by its sustainable management, certifications or best practices that contribute to the locally produced bean is no longer traded as a commodity but rather sold at a price according to its quality.

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“There are definitely many elements that distinguish Honduran coffee, and many of those elements are being used by groups, companies and cooperatives independently of each other to position their own company,” Sánchez said, but added that what has been lacking is organization in the coffee-growing sector.

Following in the footsteps of Panama’s Geisha variety

For Sanchez, the Parainema variety of coffee could be a differentiating element for Honduras in its quest to position itself among the markets of high-quality coffees.

“We have not been able to get enough juice out of it,” she said, with respect to the bean not having been sufficiently taken advantage of.

Panama has positioned its Geisha variety at a global level, a variety that was originally harvested from the coffee forests of Ethiopia in the 1930s. From there it was sent to Tanzania and then taken to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Teaching Center (Catie) in 1953, and then, during the 1960s, the seeds reached farms in Panama, but it was not until 2005 that it achieved fame with the “Best of Panama” auction.

“Our colleagues in Panama have done such a good job with their marketing and such consistent quality to open these trade relationships, and it is going to be very difficult for us as a country to match the positioning that Panama has already achieved with its Geisha coffee. However, we have a space to build out with Parainema”, Sánchez said.

In her opinion, Honduras needs to learn to better market the efforts being made by the coffee chain and apply different processing schemes.

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In late November, San Pedro Sula hosted the fourth Summit for Coffee Sustainability, organized by the Regional Cooperative Program for the Technological Development and Modernization of Coffee Growing (Promecafé), which brought together industry leaders from the region to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the situation and the challenges that impact coffee growing.

Ihcafé forecasts that exports during the 2022-2023 harvest will be around 7.2 million bags, one million more compared to the production cycle that ended on September 30.