Standing alongside a dirt road in the steep hills outside of Ocosingo, a town in Chiapas, in southern Mexico, Diego Méndez Gómez, a skinny 13-year-old coffee farmer pointed down at the colonial town center, a bumpy 40-minute truck ride away. “I used to go to school there,” he explained. Now he helps his father tend livestock, grow vegetables, and cultivate coffee. He left school a year ago, at age 12. On the hillside above, a man walked a donkey up the incline, past a patch of corn plants and a few small wooden houses with corrugated steel roofs. It’s Manuel Gómez Guzmán, a 35-year-old butcher who works in the colonial city of San Cristobal but travels to visit his parents outside Ocosingo. “We live from coffee,” he explained. Every year Gomez’s parents grow about 450 pounds of coffee, a yield that earns them a few hundred dollars of cash income. “I come to help them harvest and then go back [to San Cristobal],” Gomez explained. Behind him, an array of light tan beans sat under the hot sun on a tarp on the dusty road. “The beans take about four days to dry out,” Gómez explained.
Chiapas, Mexico, is coffee country, supplier of premium beans to boutique coffee brands and major international companies such as Starbucks and Nestle. But Chiapas is, too, home to many of the poorest towns in Mexico, despite concentrated efforts to invest following fair trade and sustainable production guidelines.