this time next week I will be on my way to Costa Rica. In a boat. I’ve already stayed in Nicaragua a month longer than I was expecting too, but I still reckon I could learn so much more if I stayed even longer… But I have a hubby and ferrets back home who I miss a great deal….
As for the coffee, one of the main reasons for this trip was to do comparisons between quality and waste on small, organic farms here, and massive commercial plantations in Costa Rica. Making those comparisons has so far been very easy, but not necessarily impartial. Telling people I am going to Costa Rica has met with mixed reactions, but none of them particularly positive.
One thing I love about Nicaraguans is the fact that they are all so opinionated. They are informed too, though, and very willing to voice their opinions, loudly and passionately, at every available opportunity. General consensus seems to be that Costa Rica is ‘bonita’ – pretty, but ‘caro’ – expensive. There are a lot more tourists there, which means the people are accustomed to seeing foreigners and I shouldn’t have to endure anymore “Chelita” cat calls and hissing from the ‘machistas’. Woohoo!!! But, at the same time, a lot of Nicas have warned me that ‘Ticos’ are ‘cerrado’ and ‘frio’ – not was warm and welcoming towards tourists as in Nicaraguans are.
When I have asked about Costa Rican coffee, I can rarely get past issues of national pride. Of course, all Nicaraguan coffee is much, much better than Tico coffee. ‘They don’t have the right geography’ (I am assuming this means climate, the volcanic soil, shade from cloud forest and altitude sound pretty similar to me). ‘They don’t do organic’ erm…. That remains to be seen, but I’m pretty confident they do. ‘It’s not good quality’ – why not? ‘it’s all machines, they don’t use traditional methods’. Ok, but I’ve still never worked out the advantage of ‘traditional methods’, other than the romance of it. I get the impression that farmers here would use machinery, if they could get hold of any. Such is national pride in their coffee however, that I’ve even had people tell me, including a respected journalist from one of the major newspapers, that sometimes Nicaraguan coffee is shipped to Costa Rica, repackaged and sold on as Tico coffee for a better price, meaning, of course, that Costa Rican coffee is only famous for being good quality because it’s actually Nicaraguan…..
You can’t engage in any debate like this in Nicaragua without dabbling in politics, which usually results in impassioned rants about the woeful state of the country, from both right and left wing supporters. Both sides agree, however, that the coffee industry is suffering immensely. From a Sandinista perspective, the country, and coffee production is crippled by the fact that Nicaragua is proudly left wing, and the ‘Gringos’ (Americans) won’t help, and won’t buy the coffee for this reason alone. The revolution bankrupted the country, (true, from whichever political perspective you happen to take) and all industries are still reeling from this. For the average Sandinista supporter, coffee growing is very much a nationalised, internal occupation, you grow your coffee to support your family and that’s it. There is little awareness of private investment, or of private companies actually profitting from the industry. Most of the big cooperatives here are government agencies. In turn, the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) is the party of the poor, who trust that they will provide. Who else do they have?
From the more right wing vantage point, both liberal and conservative, the coffee farmers are surviving but not succeeding, and this is because of a lack of vision, a lack of stimulus to desire more than just a means of survival, and that way of thinking is a direct result of years of Sandinista government. The farmers feed the cooperatives, and the cooperatives feed the government. No-one works in coffee for themselves, so no-one makes a profit anymore. They say, before the 80s, everything was better for coffee. But after the Sandinistas took charge, there has been no private investment in El Campo and coffee has, effectively, stagnated. There is no development. (this may well be true, but although the Nicaraguan revolution happened in the late seventies/early 80s, the International Coffee Agreement also collapsed in the 80s, and the price of coffee crashed. So certainly in Nicaragua is impossible to tell whether the current situation is a result of revolution or world economics!)
Nicaragua has the natural resources to be a very rich, prosperous country. But it lacks the organisation and infrastructure to make use of it’s natural advantages. And this is, undeniably, a result of decades of political upset, revolution, civil war, foreign intervention and governmental corruption, and that applies to both left and right.
Costa Rica, as far as I can tell at the moment, are rich enough, and prosperous enough, to have developed the infrastructure sufficiently within the country to allow coffee farmers to access international markets, and this access is, for the majority, independent of the government. Consequently, the quality of the coffee, whether Nica or Tico, is irrelevant. Costa Rica can market their coffee internationally, Nicaragua can’t, or at least can’t so easily. And this fact is inescapable, even if the Nicas are right, and they really do produce better coffee.
Never talk religion, politics or coffee.