Gerardo Arias Camacho is a coffee farmer and a board member of his local Llano Bonito coffee co-operative. Its 630 members are based around the village of Llano Bonito, population 2,000, in San José state. Coffee is grown on small farms of 1.25 hectares on average at altitudes of around 1,500 metres in the mountains of Tarrazu, ideal for growing the renowned and sought after strictly hard bean (SHB) grade of arabica coffee.
Llano Bonito co-operative is one of 10 members of COOCAFE, a secondary level co-operative that represents 3,800 farmers, 20 per cent of them women, across four states. COOCAFE’s mission is to promote the social and economic development of its members’ communities through environmentally sustainable coffee production. It processes, markets and exports its members’ coffee and provides a range of agricultural services and training programmes.
Gerardo is married with three young children. The coffee he grows on half of his 5 hectare (12 acre) farm provides virtually all of his cash income. On the rest of his land he keeps several cows and grows vegetables, beans, corn, bananas, oranges and mangoes for the family. The farm takes up most of his time so on a typical day he gets up at 5am and works in his fields from six in the morning until five or six in the evening.
Gerardo was born and bred on the family coffee farm, the second youngest of 13 children. But back in 1988, when he was 10, coffee prices fell and his father reluctantly had to pull him and his two school-age brothers out of school, unable to afford the expenses.
After eight hard years working on the family farm Gerardo realised that lack of a decent education limited his career options, so he and some friends decided to follow the well-worn trail to the US in the hope of making some money. Unable to get visas, the group’s nightmare journey began with them being robbed at gunpoint by bogus police. Then after paying off corrupt police, being cheated by their guide, illegally jumping the Mexican border into the US, risking death crossing the desert, and surviving on water with very little food for nine days, they eventually arrived penniless in New Jersey where they were met by friends from home.
After eight years of low-paid work Gerardo had earned enough to buy the family farm from his parents so that they could retire with some financial security. Low coffee prices later drove him back to the States for another two-year stint but Gerardo is now proud to be able to provide a decent living for his own family on the piece of land where he was born.