The Comon Yaj Noptic cooperative is nestled within the buffer zone of El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, one of the world's most diverse forest reserves, in Chiapas, Mexico. The reserve has a dense cloud forest, which consists of constant low-level clouds that produce a mix of fog, mist, and rain. Coffee plants thrive in this high-precipitation environment.
A Root Capital client since 2010, Comon Yaj Noptic is a coffee cooperative whose farmer members harvest a nutty Arabica coffee characteristic of the Chiapas region. In addition to selling high quality, sustainable coffee, Common Yaj Noptic provides technical services and internal credit to its approximately 170 cooperative members. Although the demand for cooperative membership is high among local farmers, Comon Yaj Noptic has purposefully remained small and nimble, never expanding to more than 170 smallholder coffee farmers. Their small size ensures that the cooperative functions in a collaborative manner where every member knows and works with one another.
Comon Yaj Noptic has excelled under Root Capital’s “credit plus capacity” model, exporting organic Fair Trade coffee to large international buyers such as Starbucks.
Business Management Advising for Improved Operational Efficiency
Since 2010, Root Capital has provided Comon Yaj Noptic with nine loans, totaling more than $2.5 million. In 2012, we began offering Comon Yaj Noptic business management advisory services to streamline internal accounting and financial procedures, including improving their internal credit system (which provides small loans to farmers). Root Capital advisors also helped Comon Yaj Noptic strengthen its managing board by clarifying roles, responsibilities, and the overall structure, helping to write a charter, and creating work plans that provided each committee with a sense of direction and purpose.
One of the first changes our business management advisors recommended was digitizing the existing cumbersome and time-consuming loan application review process. Farmer members can apply for lines of credit from Comon Yaj Noptic to pay for the costs associated with planting and harvesting new coffee crops and varieties. Overhauling this loan process entailed transitioning from an all-paper loan application review process to Microsoft Excel. Prior to the transition, cooperative employees were spending three to four hours reviewing and analyzing each paper loan application; now, using Excel spreadsheets and dashboards, employees spend an average of 30 to 40 minutes reviewing each loan application. By strengthening internal processes and tightening loan policies, Comon Yaj Noptic has become more efficient.
Comon Yaj Noptic loan reviewers analyzing loan applications.
Agronomic Advising in the Face of Coffee Leaf Rust
Comon Yaj Noptic’s first crisis as a Root Capital client came when coffee leaf rust, locally known as la roya, hit southern Mexico in early 2013. The farmer members of Comon Yaj Noptic were particularly affected by roya, a plant disease that suffocates coffee trees and can decimate an entire farm in days. As a result, coffee production decreased and Comon Yaj Noptic faced payment problems.
In response to the crisis, Root Capital amped up advisory services, working with Comon Yaj Noptic to provide agronomic advising to train farmers on sound agricultural practices and help them build resilience to the effects of roya. We also advised Comon Yaj Noptic’s management on how to prepare financially for future climate and economic crises, including building up a savings fund and using these incremental savings to pay off debt during lean times, as well as providing guidance on how to restructure debt.
Gender Lens Advising
Despite having a women-led coffee brand, Mujeres en Acción para el Desarrollo Sustentable, Comon Yaj Noptic has struggled to integrate women into certain positions and management roles. Root Capital’s Gender Equity Advisory Services team stepped in to identify Comon Yaj Noptic’s gender inequities and provide a plan for moving forward. A gender gap diagnostic found that women employees were among the most vulnerable within the cooperative. Most women employees were part-time or contract employees in lower-level administrative and assistant positions, which meant they were the first to be laid off when times were tough.
To increase the number of women employees, strengthen their overall position within the cooperative, and have them move into new and higher-up positions in the cooperative, our gender advisors assisted Comon Yaj Noptic’s management team in developing a strategic plan that incorporated a gender lens focus. We also helped create a scorecard tool that monitors gender equity progress within the cooperative. Just this year, these efforts paid off when a woman employee advanced to become the head of Comon Yaj Noptic’s marketing division, a role that previously had only been held by men.
Talent Partnership Program
Most recently, we were thrilled to invite Comon Yaj Noptic to participate in our Talent Partnership Program, which launched in Mexico in 2022. Talent Partnerships pair young professionals, typically recent college graduates looking to start their careers, with rural businesses seeking to address specific challenges. We helped the cooperative board recruit and identify interns and conduct the talent identification process through a gender equity lens. This included an analysis of gender barriers in job descriptions that establish requirements centered on a male understanding of professional skills, such as physical strength for working in the field, experience handling a motorcycle, availability of time, and an extroverted character. This analysis allowed for a more intentional and inclusive approach to creating "youth employment opportunities," with equal opportunities for women and men.
In 2022, we placed intern Isayana Josefina at Comon Yaj Noptic for a year-long Talent Partnership, which included a monthly stipend paid by Root Capital. Although Isayana Josefina was brought on for her background and expertise in agronomics, the internship also created an opportunity for her to advocate not only for Comon Yaj Noptic’s women-led coffee brand, but also more broadly, for gender equity within the cooperative and adding more women to the technical assistance team, an area traditionally dominated by men.
Boosting Capacity to Prepare for a More Resilient Future
Despite challenges over the years, from coffee leaf rust to encroaching deforestation to growing violence and crime in the region, Comon Yaj Noptic has remained resilient. The cooperative has also remained welcoming of and open to the new pilot programs, workshops, and advisory services that we have offered. For more than 10 years, Comon Yaj Noptic has experienced how internal capacity building, coupled with financing, have allowed them to remain a small, tight-knit, and highly efficient cooperative. Climate change will continue to impact fragile ecosystems like El Triunfo, but we know that taking this multi-pronged credit plus capacity approach ensures that coffee cooperatives like Comon Yaj Noptic are well-equipped for the future.
Information in this blog post is up-to-date as of publishing time.
About the Author
Kelly Acheson is the Manager of Content Development and Communications at Root Capital.