late harvest...

The robusta plant bears only one crop of berries per year. In Togo the harvest season usually begins in late October, and is heaviest through the month of November.

As I found during my visit to this plantation, picking may continue into January. Late harvest coffee may not have the same quality as beans picked during the peak season. But for the Togolese grower, quality has no bearing. A single set price is paid for each year's crop based only on world market conditions. All that matters to the coffee farmer in Togo is the total volume of his harvest.

The work of picking is difficult and not so bucolic as it may first appear to the casual observer. For one thing, these branches are alive with millions and millions of teensy tiny fire ants, whose small bite is surprisingly fierce. Within moments of grabbing a branch, one's hands and arms become engulfed with hot stinging needles of pain. A partial numbness soon follows, a sort of fiery blistering numbness, and always the relentless pricking irritation of new mandibles finding fresh flesh.

Of course, I was given an opportunity to join in the harvest myself. I am happy to report that my own reckoning with the biting hordes provided a few moments of merriment for the other pickers.

Togo, January 2008.

Rolleiflex T, Neopan 400.