Opportunities For Specialty Coffee in Nicaragua with Gabriela Figueroa

Gabriela Figueroa is a producer from RAMACAFE, a union of two families that have 4 fincas in Nicaragua. Gaby invited La Finca Distribution over to her finca La Virgen in El Tuma, Matagalpa to explore the farm, check out its state of the art on-site facilities and to cup her excellent coffees. I got the opportunity to sit down with Gaby after a day filled with activities to ask her a few questions.

Ryan: So Gabriela, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Gaby: You can call me Gaby, that's more easy (laughing). Okay, my name is Gabriela Figueroa de Hueck. We are here at finca La Virgen, one of our farms that is in the North of Matagalpa. We are focusing on producing quality coffee, doing different processes, sharing with the community, returning all that we truly can and of course, put the name of Nicaragua on top.

Ryan: What inspired you to take on the challenges of being a woman producer?

Gaby: One of the people that have really inspired me a lot is my husband(Henry), because he really started this farm from nothing, with zero, it was abandoned. Now after more than 20 years, we can see the results of something made with passion. When we have passion for the work we do, I believe it's the key truly and the fundamental part to your business. After I got more involved with coffee, because I participated in a conference for convention for women in coffee and started to meet different women involved in roasting and production and there was a lot of empowerment and fulfilling this desire to take their countries forward, opened my eyes and I slowly started getting more involved with coffee production. I started in 2012, not very long ago really. I met my husband in 2004, I used to help and work in production, but never too involved. He had a health problem in 2010 and that was an eye opener that I had to get more involved with the farm. That's part of what happened in the family, I opened my eyes I got in and I really loved it.

Ryan: What was your biggest obstacle you ever faced as a woman producer?

Gaby: The biggest obstacle is to manage time between being with my family and my work, because I am the mother of 3 kids, but we have created a degree of balance; my husband(Henry) helps me a lot. When I'm at the farm, he's in Managua or vice versa and the kids, we are trying to instill love for the farm and love for work, for nature. Practically, it's the biggest obstacle, but at the same time the family is apart of the results .

Ryan: With ACEN you went to Taiwan, I was wondering, how do you think the world perceives Nicaraguan coffee from the outside looking in?

Gaby: I think there is a great opportunity, because Nicaraguan coffee is seen with more of a boom. Thanks to coffee processing and specialty coffee, already in Taiwan, we have a market that's getting bigger and is a great opportunity that we can take advantage of as a country and fortify results. What we have to do is work together and have better communication and keep working for quality, because that's the only thing that sets us apart.

Ryan: Do you think they look at it as a lower quality or as the same quality as the rest of the world?

Gaby: I think that there is this conception that the market in Nicaragua is seen as lower quality. This is a great opportunity, because as producers we can show Nicaraguan coffee is of high quality and we have a lot of diversity you can have coffees with different profiles, as well as zones that have their own cupping notes. I think the diversity of flavors that we can offer to the world is impressive.

Ryan: So what do you think we can do to improve the global perspective of how people see Nicaraguan coffee?

Gaby: The most important part is to work for quality. I know it's difficult especially at this time what we're going through; it's very difficult to tell a producer to continue working for quality, practically everything is more expensive. The financing part is something that is really affecting producers, but the only advantage we have as a country is working on quality, so maybe getting together as producers, having people like you who are trying to project the country and show the best out of us, I think joining forces we can show a positive message to the world.

Ryan: Being a woman in this industry, do you think that the perspective of women in the coffee industry has progressed since you've entered?

Gaby: I believe so, yes. It's important I believe, the message that Nicaraguan women transmit is they are progressive women, workers, like how we say "moridoras"(ride or die)(laughing) and I believe with that advantage we have, we shine in the industry. We have women that are part of cooperatives, women who are owners of small, medium, large farms. I believe 2, what we want to see similar or equal is we are working women. We want to move the country forward and our families forward, because an important part of this coffee industry is to not only think about ourselves, but also how can that person have a better future? How can our families have a better future? and the only way is working together allying ourselves and the organizations.

Ryan: As you know, there has been a pickers crisis in the last few years and higher paying jobs in the city are driving the younger generation away from rural areas, what do you think we can do to attract more younger women to the coffee industry?

Gaby: I think we need to involve them more, because many of our children we take them out of coffee. Really it's not their fault they are not passionate about what their fathers do, so I think it's an important part is to include the youth, teaching them about barismo, in the processes give them responsibilities where they can see they are going to have more opportunities. It's the only way, to keep the youth you have to involve them more, so the part that's important as producers is to involve all these young people who have all of the energy and want to take Nicaraguan coffee forward. New ideas, why not. Don't always work traditionally, as well we can start to think of new ways these young people are creating job opportunities. Right now the industry has a lot of young people involved, so we have to improve and make this connection and connect the youth to the industry.

Ryan: Awesome, thank you so much for welcoming us into your house and allow us to cup your amazing coffees, this has been an amazing experience, we can't wait to do this again.

Gaby: Okay, we can do it!

Ryan: Great!