Legal name: EK-BALAM Productores de la Estrella del Jaguar S.C de R.L de C.V
State / Province: Chiapas
Number of producers: 1,370 (65% men / 35% women)
Altitude MASL: From 800 to 1,850
Main varieties: Bourbon, Typica, Mundo Novo, Caturra, Catimor, Marsellesa, Costa Rica 95, Oro Azteca, Sarchimor
Harvest: December to April
Main process: Washed
Mexico’s biodiversity richness makes it an ideal place for coffee production. Chiapas is recognized as one of the main producing states of “café de altura” thanks to its altitude and quality of its coffee beans.
The state of Chiapas is located in the South of Mexico. It is one of the five Mayan states, with great archaeological, cultural, and natural wealth, concentrated in a territory of 73,289 square kilometers. It represents 3.8% of the country’s surface area and borders the state of Tabasco to the north, the Republic of Guatemala to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the south, and the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz to the west.
EK-BALAM was born from the initiative of several Arabica coffee producers, with the intention of improving their income, obtaining better prices, increasing their productivity, taking care of the environment, having a better quality of life, reducing the relationship with intermediaries or “coyotes“, and having more contact with the final consumer.
The cooperative is founded on three fundamental pillars:
- Improve the quality of life of the region’s coffee growers
- Share with Mexico and the world the coffee produced in their lands
- Conserve and preserve natural resources
EK-BALAM gathers 1,200 certified coffee producers (organic, private, and sustainable) with an average farm size of 4.5 hectares. The cooperative’s area of influence is located in the Frailesca or Fraylesca region, next to the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the heart of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas.
The cooperative’s coffee producers come from 6 municipalities in 35 communities with ideal characteristics for coffee production, ranging from 900 to 1700 meters above sea level. The varieties that are grown in the region are as follows: Bourbon, Typica, Mundo Novo, Caturra, Catimor, Marsellesa, Costa Rica 95, Oro Azteca, and Sarchimor.
The cooperative is composed of a board of directors, a supervisory board, and an operational team responsible for its operation. Currently, they hold various certifications such as USDA-NOP, EU, JAS, LPO, C.A.F.E. Practices, and FAIRTRADE.
In this region are the protected natural areas La Sepultura, La Frailescana, and El Triunfo, which mainly benefit from a warm sub-humid climate and abundant rainfall in summer, important protected natural areas in Mexico.
The cooperative producers have been involved in coffee production for generations, an activity they inherited from their grandparents and parents. In 2012 the rust disease, caused by a fungus that mainly attacks coffee leaves, devastated the coffee plantations of the Chiapas producers. Sadly, many coffee farmers saw the heritage they had forged over the years disappear in one season.
This event led to the dissolution of many organizations, leaving many producers defenseless at the mercy of the “coyotes” of the region. It was only in 2019 that several experienced producers decided to join hands and create what is now EK-BALAM.
The cooperative was named EK-BALAM because of the importance of Mayan culture in the region and their proximity to the biosphere reserve “El Triunfo”; “Ek” means star and “Balam” jaguar, an animal still living within the reserve. The logo of the cooperative is the face of a jaguar in the state of Chiapas, with the star indicating the location of the Frailesca region where its coffee comes from.
Mission: “We are a cooperative of coffee producers who produce and market with the highest quality standards, through a democratic and participatory organization, which allows us to achieve social, economic and environmental development in order to improve the quality of life of our associates”.
Vision: “To consolidate the administrative, financial, social and environmental structure of the cooperative, increasing the participation of the associates, distinguishing itself by producing and marketing the best coffee in Mexico, maintaining leadership in the world market”.
The members of the cooperative have been trained to renew their coffee plantations, prevent rust disease, conserve soil and water, and avoid forest fires, which are very common in the region. Some members have been part of the Cari Coffee project since its inception. Their motto? “Leave a good taste in the mouth of the world“.
The cooperative has obtained certain other benefits for its members through a project of breeding and fattening hens as well as egg production. Some other producers have received hives for the production of honey and by-products.
In almost 100% of the localities where the coffee plantations are located, the members of the cooperative received rewards for their environmental services, either for the maintenance of the forest areas or for belonging to an important watershed, a program that encourages them to take care of the natural resources coming from the area.
There are two biosphere reserves in the region :
- La Sepultura, which is located in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. It is covered by large forests that occupy 8.40% of the total area of the region.
- El Triunfo, located in the municipalities of La Concordia, Angel Albino Corzo, and Montecristo de Guerrero. It is the seat of the largest remaining cloud forest in the country, habitat of quetzals and peacocks, with fog forest vegetation (pine groves, holm oaks, pine encino-lichidámbar) and medium-high, evergreen forests, with a relief formed by the high mountain range with steep slopes. El Triunfo represents 6.47% of the total area of the region.