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The Path Forward

Benjamin Paz

Benjamin Paz, Fidel’s son, is the Renaissance man of the modern specialty coffee industry. As Relationship Manager of Beneficio San Vicente since 2009, Ben has fostered long-term partnerships between Honduran farmers and roasters around the world. Just as importantly, he’s a renowned farmer himself and the winner of the 2022 Honduras Cup of Excellence. Ben also owns a café and micro-roastery in Peña Blanca.

 

Conducted by AJ Walzer

 

AJ

Your father told us that his biggest wish when he started working on his own was to achieve what your grandfather couldn’t. He ascribes San Vicente’s success today as a world-renowned exporter to that philosophy and work ethic. What’s your biggest wish for the next generation of San Vicente?

Benjamin

Our short-term goal is to maintain relationships with buyers and producers, providing a proper service to both. All kinds of things affect production, like dramatic cost increases and migration16—which impact most agricultural industries but especially coffee—and we want to continue cultivating sustainable, long-term relationships for our producers. The next thing would be to position San Vicente in markets where we don’t have a presence yet, and develop new projects in areas where no one else is working.

AJ

You’ve said that opportunities are abundant, but also that there’s less hope in the industry, not just in Peña Blanca but all over the country. How do those two things fit together? 

Benjamin

There are thousands of producers like me, who don’t know how to do anything but produce coffee. We were born to do it. Maybe we have other options, but we don’t want them. That’s where the hope is: people really making an effort to thrive and succeed in this industry. At the same time, you see people transitioning to something else because the elevation doesn’t support coffee growing, for instance. If there’s demand we can ask them to regrow, but if the market doesn’t want coffee, or isn’t willing to pay what it’s worth, that’s a real challenge.

AJ

If you could convey one message to people drinking coffee from Santa Bárbara or in partnership with San Vicente, what would it be?

Benjamin

That a lot of producers now know exactly where their coffees are going, and they’re proud to be producing them. With the migration and labor crises, with the hurricanes, fewer and fewer people are available to work in the fields, which makes costs higher and higher. Not everyone knows this, and not everyone is interested in paying the true value of the coffee. But there are producers who are really invested in their farms, who trust consumers to understand the value of the human labor that goes into it.

Coffee in a parabolic drying bed.

AJ

What would you like to see change in the next twenty years? 

Benjamin

I’d like to see people buying outside of cup quality—really buying true sustainability, not just some made-up version of it. I’d also like to see producers committing to the extra work and sacrifice, because when they stop investing in that way we get mediocre products. 

AJ

How do you define true sustainability?

Benjamin

Understanding the economics of coffee and paying accordingly. We all want to sell the best coffees, but not everyone can. We’re in a very competitive market, and people might buy from another company offering the same value for less because they don’t know what’s happening here in Honduras. All they see is a price list. But good producers need opportunities. We have to evolve the market. So ask your producer what his cost is, pay based on that cost, and work on improving quality together at the farm level.

AJ

You operate a coffee shop as well. By keeping some of this region’s incredible coffees local rather than exporting them, you’ve essentially closed the loop. What impact has your shop had on the community? 

Benjamin

We try to educate the community by showcasing the attributes of quality. I have my award-winning coffee on the menu so that people can understand quality and recognize Peña Blanca for its excellence. We’re a coffee country, and people should be proud of that. 

Note 16: NPR reported in July 2023 that extreme weather events, coupled with erratic periods of rainfall and drought, have left many young Hondurans pessimistic about a future in agriculture. Since early 2021, U.S. immigration authorities at the southern border have recorded more migrants from Honduras than from any other country besides Mexico.