The following story was written by EARTH grad Rosa Ayde Martínez (’14, Honduras).My story is full of struggles, dreams, wishes and life. I come from an aldea (that is what we Hondurans call the small, rural communities in our country) and from a family that has always been dedicated to agriculture. My name is Rosa Ayde Martínez, and I am a proud EARTHiana and graduate from the Class of 2014.
I was raised in the countryside, in a house of dirt floors and adobe walls. I used to dream about one day being an agricultural scientist. I knew that to be my calling when, at 5 years old, I noticed that such a profession could change the lives of rural families. The closest example I ever had was Exsequiel Monje. He appeared in my region in 2002, when I was 10 years old. At that moment, I was not able to identify the career of agricultural science, but I could clearly identify my fondness for the earth and for coffee – the same fondness that I could see in Exsequiel. He inspired me, and his help transformed not only my family; it indirectly transformed the entire Honduran coffee-growing sector.
In 2002, Honduras was being punished by the international price of coffee. As a country, we were not cultivating quality fruit or global recognition. That year, a specialty-coffee competition was organized. Exsequiel showed my parents the potential of their crop and incentivized them to participate. We submitted a cup and earned 15th place. That was the first step in our evolution. After that, we started to develop our crop with even more determination.
Exsequiel helped my dad implement a solar coffee-drying machine and new methods for handling the crop. My dad and my mom were really amazed by his ideas, which seemed to answer nearly impossible questions. He spoke of lofty, sustainable alternatives that required great changes. Against all odds, we implemented “las locuras de Exsequiel” (Exsequiel’s crazy ideas), and we started to produce coffee a different way – a better way. We would not let it be contaminated by dust. Our efforts turned our product into a café mimado (pampered coffee). Other villagers would laugh at us because they saw us working with coffee in a very strange way. We did not have any money, but we all dedicated any resource and effort we could muster into the farm. I remember how we had to walk upwards of four hours to the farm because we lacked a vehicle suitable for the path.
In 2004, the Cup of Excellence came to Honduras for the first time. That event was a milestone for the sector and even more so for my life and my family’s. When the awards day arrived, my father was the only family member able to attend. We had neither the money for us all to go nor a television to watch the ceremony; so, we followed the competition via a shoddy radio. And just as the winners were being announced, the reception failed.
Once we regained the signal, we heard a familiar voice: my father’s. That is how we realized we had crafted the best cup, scoring a 95.60 at the tasting. My family cultivated the coffee cherries through great and cooperative effort, while Honduras showed the world it could produce one of the best coffees. It was impressive how that moment changed the way that Honduran coffee growers thought and acted. From then on, many more producers began to believe they, too, could do things in a different way.
Having travelled to Ecuador to continue promoting the production of specialty coffees, Exsequiel was unable to witness our triumph. From him, we had learned it was possible to produce coffee in a more careful way. After that, my family’s economic condition changed, and the price of coffee rose. My parents could finally give me a good education.
When I was little, I learned that knowledge is power. If Exsequiel had not educated us, we never would have realized what we had on our coffee farm or the potential we could achieve.
It is a curious thing because, when I was between 12 and 14 years old, I used to sell bread after school with my mom. Even though I would return exhausted from both the classes and the sales, I always had enough energy to dream of a better future. I later went to secondary school, away from home, with the conviction that I would one day study at a university and achieve my dream of becoming an agronomist.
At that time, I did not know that EARTH even existed. Sadly, one of my siblings died in an accident in 2008. My dad was not in the condition to come for me at the boarding school where I studied. So, a friend of a friend took me home. While chatting, this person asked me what I wanted to do with my future. I shared my plan of studying agricultural science. It was he who mentioned a university in Costa Rica called EARTH – a place that believed in the potential of women and nurtured students’ aspirations to be change agents for their communities. That day, amid my grief, I was introduced to the institution that would most add to my personal and professional growth.
I applied to EARTH University and was admitted in 2011. There was only one scholarship for a Honduran, and it was awarded to me. While on campus, I discovered that Exsequiel Monje – the person who had inspired me and changed my family – was a 2001 EARTH graduate. I cried. I was following his footsteps.Being at EARTH was making my dream come true. I was attending a university that believed in me and my abilities. I had the opportunity to share with classmates from other countries, creating friendships and deep bonds. I was learning from the experiences of esteemed professors who had hailed from many parts of the world. The University’s teaching method – learning by doing – enabled me to quell my fears and believe in myself.
As a woman, I have learned to trust in my abilities to excel in my profession. I internalized the idea that it was my duty to become an example for and a champion of other young women and girls. I am the first woman from my village to graduate as an agricultural scientist. For generations, it was always believed that agronomy was a man’s field. EARTH empowered me and drove me to accomplish many things that I had never imagined could be possible in my life, things I believed unachievable – thanks to the tools and knowledge the University gave me.After leaving the University, I worked in Ecuador, providing technical assistance to small producers of coffee. We developed alternative methods and plans, such as crop diversification, but my principal focus and passion has always been coffee.
In 2016, I returned to Honduras to work as an instructor at a technical high school. Later, I returned to Costa Rica for another very important life chapter. I began working with Kattia Barrantes, a woman who has become my mentor and a pillar in my life. We were accompanied in the adventure by Adriana Bustamante, who shared the same dream as us. We had a meeting in which we decided that we were going to do something important for coffee-growing families. We created Fundación PRO-CAFÉ, a charitable foundation. It was not easy at the beginning. In such undertakings, everything poses a challenge. However, working side-by-side with women as capable, intelligent and determined as them made everything more bearable.
At the start of 2017, the Swiss Embassy financed our first project, which dealt with issues of economic empowerment, coffee-growing best practices and ways to add value to their work. We carried out our project with 60 farmers: 40 women and 20 men from Costa Rica’s Brunca region. We are continuing to work hard with PRO-CAFÉ, forging partnerships to bring even more initiatives to producers all over Central America.In 2018, I again returned to my country, Honduras. I felt the need to come back to the nation that had given me the opportunity to grow up totally immersed in coffee and to be with my family, my people. My brother and I started the brand “Don Goya” in honor of our dad. We are currently restructuring some practices and varieties used on the family farm. Surefooted, we are moving forward to cement the legacy of our family’s high-quality products.
I also work as project coordinator for the business Inloher – located in Lepaera, Lempira, Honduras – where I promote sustainable production throughout the entire coffee supply chain. We consult on anything related to coffee farming: production, integrated pest management, agricultural best practices, soil management and conservation, and agroforestry systems operation. I also provide support to its certifications department for work involving the organic and Rainforest Alliance seals.
My purpose is to advance the quality of life for coffee-growing families, guaranteeing the sustainability of their farms and the quality of their beans. My work makes me happy.
– Rosa Ayde Martínez