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Community-based Tourism in Nicaragua: An experience infused with the aroma of sustainable coffee

Responsible Tourism

Nicaragua

In this blog post, we take a closer look at community-based tourism in Nicaragua, focusing on one of the communities included in our latest Unexplored Nicaragua Tour: La Fundadora community. The post follows on from last week’s post Exploring Nicaragua – the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, and offers a personal perspective as to how community-based tourism can be a win-win proposition.

I have vague memories of writing a very critical essay on the ‘concept’ of community-based tourism (CBT) during my masters, mainly because it was much more fun to take a stand than to sit on the fence. I stand corrected. My first ‘real’ experience of CBT was on a recent trip to Nicaragua – Sumak having partnered with local responsible tour operator, Matagalpa Tours. Together we put together an itinerary allowing me to visit some of the fascinating people and great community-based initiatives they work with. The highlight of my trip was spending the day with Don Augustin in La Fundadora community. La Fundadora used to be one of the Nicaragua’s most important coffee estates, controlled by the Somoza family between 1939 to 1979. In 2001, community cooperative ‘La Reforma’ was formed. Coffee continues to be the main economic activity of the area, the climate lending itself well to the production, but now members of the community are able to grow their own food, and many of the families have come together to manage an eco-lodge as well: Eco Albergue La Fundadora. I had the privilege of staying here for two nights during my trip to Nicaragua – and it only seemed fitting to include a sustainable coffee tour into my itinerary.

After a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto (a traditional mix of rice and beans), Don Augustin came to find me and we saddled up to head towards his small family finca. My host’s enthusiasm and smiley nature were infectious – and he is rightly proud of his many achievements. Don Augustin has spent the past 6 years turning a small piece of land into his own diversified coffee plantation… and research centre! During a tour of the finca he explains the benefits of having bananas and oranges, as well as many other tree varieties, growing amongst the coffee bushes – and about all the work he is doing to encourage birds and bees to his farm. His careful planning results in better tasting coffee, the right natural shading for his coffee plants, more nutrients for the soil and of course lots of tasty fruit for the family table.

Don Augustin is also investigating which coffee varieties work best at which altitude and in which conditions. His research methods are impressive to say the least – and the results extremely useful, particularly given the climatic fluctuations, draughts and pests Nicaraguan farmers are subject to. After the tour I got to try my hand at traditional coffee bean roasting and grinding – but have to admit to being much more successful at enjoying a cup of his coffee afterwards. The area around this small family finca is dotted with many large coffee estates, some of these no doubt opening their gates to tourists. I am confident however that I got the most insightful and engaging coffee experience in the region – and with a host oozing charisma.

We spent the next few hours horse-riding through beautiful countryside to reach the Bujona waterfall, located at the end of a short community-run nature trail. Along the way I got to hear more about Don Augustin’s story and his hopes for the future. La Fundadora community is heavily reliant on income from agriculture – and most jobs are highly seasonal – principally revolving around the coffee harvest from November to February. Don Augustin is perhaps one of the lucky ones – his entrepreneurial spirit, hard-work, determination – and no doubt a little of his excess of charisma – all contributing to his many achievements.

He earns the majority of his income from his main activity – growing and harvesting tasty coffee. His other crops provide food for his wife and children and a means of bartering with others in the community, or making a few Córdobas from his excess produce. His children are all in education but he has never been able to provide them with the kind of opportunities he would like to. Tourism provides Don Augustin with a supplementary income – allowing him to save for future projects and unforeseen emergencies. It is also an income diversification strategy, providing a buffer against price fluctuations in global commodities markets. With the extra income from his coffee tours Don Augustin would like to send his youngest daughter to university – and maybe one day buy a computer for his children. But community-based tourism has also provided Don Augustin with a renewed sense of pride and enthusiasm – enthusiasm so engaging that even travellers with no interest in coffee or farming will finish the tour infused with the aroma of sustainable coffee.

The challenges of CBT I highlighted during my essay haven’t gone away. Marketing remains a huge problem for many community-run initiatives, and many products haven’t been developed with travellers’ preferences in mind. However, my visit to Don Augustin’s family finca, and to the other great community-run businesses I had the privilege to visit whilst in Nicaragua, gave me a first-hand glimpse into the potential of community-based tourism as a win – win proposition. I got one of best coffee tours in Nicaragua – and Don Augustin gets to take another small financial step towards achieving his goals.

Check out our Exploring Nicaragua Facebook album if you would like to see some more photos of this amazing country.

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