Proisch ARIC is an association made up of different indigenous groups in the Sierra Madre region of Chiapas, Mexico. It was founded in 1995, and now comprises of over 300 members who grow and export a little under 500,000 lbs of coffee a year – about the same amount that we roast here at Dean’s Beans. They export a fair amount of honey as well (not even Dunkin' Donuts has a honey flavored coffee yet do they? What do you think: Dean’s Beans Honey Dark Roast?).
I’ve got to tell you, the folks at Proisch are some of the nicest I’ve met. The staff works like a real team and the office has a cohesive, positive feeling to it. It’s always heartening to see the dedication and hard work of cooperative or association employees – the pay might not be the best and the hours might be long, but they really believe in what they are doing and give it their all.
One thing that makes Proisch unique (at least from what I've seen) is that the farmer members elected as ‘directivos,’or board of directors, are actually paid as staff and do the majority of the work there. In other organizations that I have visited, the directivos meet regularly, but employees do most of the work. Because of this management structure, the farmers of Proisch are really charting the course of their own organization. This also means that the dress code for the men in the office is dusty blue jeans, cowboy boots and big, Mexican Sombreros. We are thinking about implementing that here in the beanery.
Something that is not unique only to Proisch, but that can be found in almost any co-op or association, is the struggle to compete in a fast paced market. The farmers who I talked to here told me how intermediaries will often come to their farms and offer higherprices than what the association offers and for worsequality coffee. This puts farmers in an awkward position: get higher prices for coffee that takes less work to grow, or stay loyal to their organization and receive less.
I wondered how the intermediaries could afford to do this. The answer, in part, is that although the association will eventually export the beans at higher prices than the intermediaries due to its high quality and Organic certification, their costs are much higher. Because they actually care about the well being of their members, they offer technical assistance to improve coffee quality, micro-loans, discounts on equipment, and a guaranteed market. Taken all together, these benefits add up to a lot and are the reasons why farmers stay with their organizations through the ups and the downs.
Proisch’s goals for the future include increasing its coffee production, either by adding new members or by increasing the yields of the current members. They also hope to build a new and bigger warehouse.
The farmers and staff send out a heartfelt thank you to the drinkers of their beans – you are the ones that make their work possible!