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De la Gente Supports Coffee Producers Facing the Roya Crisis 

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De la Gente is supporting small scale coffee producers across Guatemala to overcome the roya crisis, which has devastated thousands of rural coffee farming families.

What is roya?

The coffee farming industry in Guatemala is going through turbulent times - faced with the impact of roya (coffee leaf rust), a wind borne fungus which has swept across Central America. The crisis is so serious that the government has declared the disease a 'national emergency,’ and it continues to capture international headlines.

The fungus kills coffee plants, and thus leaves farmers with no berries to harvest. Low-income coffee farming communities that cannot afford to protect their crops have been destroyed by the disease, some losing up to 90% of their coffee plants. With such high losses over the last couple of years, it has been difficult for smallholder producers to make a living off their land.

Left: Woman coffee farmer from Huehuetenango harvesting healthy coffee fruit. Top right: Dead coffee fruit on roya infected plant. Bottom right: Yellow spots on leaves are the first sign of roya.

Left: Woman coffee farmer from Huehuetenango harvesting healthy coffee fruit. Top right: Dead coffee fruit on roya infected plant. Bottom right: Yellow spots on leaves are the first sign of roya.

Why is this happening in Guatemala?

The crisis has been driven by two main factors. Firstly, changes in temperature and rain patterns due to climate change have created ideal growing conditions for the rust to outbreak. Secondly is the vulnerability of poor coffee farmers. As the demand for coffee has grown, coffee farmers have invested heavily on growing coffee and most depend almost exclusively on income from their coffee harvest. This dependency on one crop has magnified the impact of the disease and created a crisis; farmers have no other sources of income to fall back on when their crops fail.

We have seen first hand the devastating impact of roya on families - loss of coffee production leads to lack of income, forcing farming families to make difficult decisions. They are reducing household purchases such as food, reducing outgoing expenses such as sending children to school, or ultimately, leaving behind coffee farming for alternative work, which many families in Guatemala have already done.

Here at De la Gente we are attempting to soften the socio-economic impact on farmers who are seeing their livelihoods threatened.

How is De la Gente helping coffee farming communities to survive roya?

We are supporting coffee growing communities to cope with the shock of the crisis, recover from it, and plan towards a more resilient future. There are three stages to our integrated roya program:

Stage 1: Community Impact Analysis

We analyse the impact of roya on the community - both socially, economically and in terms of production and processing. Our agricultural trainers walk the fields not only to assess the impact of roya on coffee production - but to identify current growing practices and other possible threats to production. Community consultations and informal discussions enable us to understand the issues from the community members’ perspectives and their current coping strategies.

Stage 2 : Planning for the future

Alongside the community leaders and co-operative members, we strategize the best recovery plan to build a sustainable future for the community. Each program is designed at the community level, specifically for that community’s needs with varying methods of implementation according to the community’s organizational structure. We consider short-strategies for recovery, such as types of land inputs (fertilizers) within a framework of longer-term strategies such as future markets and processing equipment.

Stage 3: Rebuilding livelihoods

All of our roya programs have the objective of long-term recovery and sustainable economic development. To achieve this goal we undertake a variety of the following activities:

  • Providing technical assistance and agricultural training regarding:
    • crop varieties, their advantages and disadvantages
    • application of fungicides, fertilizers and foliar sprays
    • farming practices which increase production and encourage natural resistance to disease
  • Undertaking soil samples to identify the deficiencies in the land and how best to treat them

  • Replacing lost crops to revitalize coffee production and fostering long-term coffee production through tree nurseries

  • Distributing fungicides, fertilizers and foliar sprays

  • Encouraging diversification of livelihoods to increase economic stability

  • Facilitating the diversification of crop production to increase food security and boost coffee production through seed provision and training

We continue to need support for our roya program to help more vulnerable producers. Make a donation to our Roya Program and you can help us bring a secure, brighter future for coffee farmers and their families.

 

Technical assistance and distribution in Santa Maria de Jesus

Timoteo, peer-to-peer trainer from San Miguel Escobar, training farmers in Santa Maria de Jesus.

Timoteo, peer-to-peer trainer from San Miguel Escobar, training farmers in Santa Maria de Jesus.

De la Gente delivered technical training, materials and agricultural support to the cooperative members of Santa María de Jesús.  Using our farmer-to-farmer training model, Timoteo (a San Miguel cooperative member) conducted both ‘classroom’ and field training sessions to share knowledge on methods of maximizing plant health and minimizing roya damage. Foliar sprays and fungicides were distributed amongst attendees and members were helped in their application. Using a motorized backpack sprayer loaned by De la Gente, they were able to efficiently and effectively spray their crops. The Santa Maria cooperative will continue to utilize the methods they have learned, enabling them to foster better processes of production and reduce the effects of roya on their crops.  

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