Business students venture to Guatemala for a first-hand look at the coffee business
Ever wonder where a cup of coffee comes from? Last summer, six coffee-curious students from the Schulich School of Business traveled to Guatemala to explore the highlands and trace the origin of coffee. They interviewed previous presidents regarding coffee politics, farmed coffee with a community of revolutionaries turned reformers, and talked coffee production with ANACAFE, Guatemala’s national coffee consortium.
Schulich students Isidora Nedeljkovic, Erin Yang, Alan Mendoza, Jennifer Wang and Jimmy Chan, were piloting a research project to explore the coffee industry. They tracked the supply chain of coffee from seed to shelf – while climbing volcanoes, riding in tuc-tucs, and visiting villages where most outsiders do not venture. To make this adventure possible, these students contracted Operation Groundswell – a non-profit organization managed by Schulich alumni, Eyal Rosenblum – to create a customized service-learning program for their needs.
Their first 14 days were spent meeting politicians and major coffee stake-holders in Antigua, Guatemala City and Xela. The students then ventured to Santa Anita La Union, where they worked with a coffee cooperative run by former combatants in the country’s 36-year civil war. These Guerillas have traded their guns for tools of the coffee trade. They see their product not only as an exportable commodity but a symbol of their revolutionary solidarity. The group collaborated on the construction of the community’s new beneficio, or mill, where their coffee will be washed, de-pulped, fermented, dried, and sorted.
“During my two weeks here in Guatemala so far, I’ve taken away life lessons that wouldn’t be possible from the confines of a classroom”, said Alan Mendoza, one of the project`s student participants.
“We got a crash course on coffee farming, coffee trade, Mayan culture, Guatemala politics all in the course of 5 days. Ben, our program coordinator, called it an extended orientation – I call it coffee learning on steroids,” Jennifer Wang, another student participant, wrote in a blog post.
To tie up their adventure, the students mellowed in self-reflection in the oasis of Semuc Champey, a landscape of cascading waterfalls. While there, they consolidated their research into a documentary, a blog and various research papers targeting coffee trade. Research will be evaluated by Professor Detlev Zwick as a guided study.
This program will be running again in Summer 2016 with Professor Mike Valente as instructor. Participants will attend 3 classes on campus, followed by departure to Guatemala for 15 days. The course will center on a tour Guatemala’s western highlands as students are challenged to think about the prospects and pitfalls of export-oriented commodity production. They will learn about the merits of socially-oriented consumerism and ethical branding and resulting implications to coffee producers, Guatemala, and the global marketplace.