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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 01-02Letter – Winter 01-02   
 Coffee Growers in Nicaragua Using Photovoltaics Minimize

To the editor:

The regular coffee growers down here in Nicaragua have had a terrible time of it over the last harvest since the price of coffee on the world market has tumbled so badly. Not only the growers themselves but all the people in the northern area of the country have been hurt hard by the lack of cash and the lack of work, since at 53 cents a pound (with the farmer only getting a fraction of that small price), the growers didn’t even bother to hire anybody to pick the coffee. Now they are flat broke and all the loans for fertilizer and pesticides have come due with no way of paying. In addition, the continuing drought has meant failed food crops, so people are starving and falling back on the sorghum tortillas which are the food of last resort. The Aleman (Liberal) government is totally ignoring the situation and the demonstrations that are happening around the north.

In contrast, the organic coffee cooperatives have made out quite well. First of all, the trees shading the coffee kept the moisture in the soil so the harvest was good, then the cooperative gets a much bigger piece of the higher price that organic coffee fetches in what my partner Susan refers to as the “Prematurely Developed World.” Right after being paid for his share of the harvest, one of the organic farmers showed up at the Somoto office of the Grupo Fenix (the Nicaraguan renewable energy group I work with) with a wad of hundred dollar bills in his hand, wanting to buy a photovoltaic system to give his finca (farm) some lights in the night. Jose Luis went up with the farmer and installed a 25 watt PV system, made by the landmine victims we work with in the north. About two weeks later, when I was up there meeting with the landmine group (who now run the operation up there), Jose Luis got a message that the battery was going dead rather often; so he asked me if I would go with him and see what was going wrong with the system. We brought along a 35 watt PV module in case the 25 watts hadn’t been enough and climbed up the side of one of the taller volcanoes in the area; a great view but a terrible road. When we got there I started asking and looking around and soon found the problem: nothing at all wrong with the PV system, but the farmer had neglected to mention that he had taken some of the money and bought a TV set. (The Fenix engineering students now measure battery capacity not in amp-hours but in novela hours [telenovela, or simply novela, is Spanish for soap opera]). They were simply running the battery down every night watching the Latino soaps, which are more interesting than our pale nordamericano ones. We also added a high efficiency Fenix design fluorescent light in the kitchen and convinced the farmer to buy both PV modules.

– Richard Komp, President
SunWatt Corporation
Jonesport ME 04649


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