There are tens of thousands of small-scale coffee farmers across Guatemala that currently live below the poverty level, but want to work for a better economic future. DLG currently works with only a few hundred farmers. We have always hoped to expand those we serve, and we’re excited to announce that we will begin the process of working with new cooperatives this year.
We’ve found that the cooperatives that benefit most from our model, and those where we have the biggest impact, are those that have already shown potential for success but have not achieved what they could under the right circumstances. Generally these are small to medium sized groups (30-150 members) that are organized and have the basic resources to produce high quality coffee, but are not yet producing coffee on that level and/or are not selling their coffee direct to buyers for good prices. We also, of course, only work with groups that are dedicated to the principles of cooperativism: democratic-run organizations that are operated for the benefit of and accountable to their members.
This year, we will be focusing on the department of Sololá (area around Lake Atitlan), as it’s a prime coffee area and we have no presence there. Over the last month, we’ve developed a set of evaluation criteria, based on our experiences, of what makes a cooperative an effective partner. In April and May, we’ll be making site visits to cooperatives in that area to gather data and interview members and leaders, and based on that we’ll select a cooperative to work with for the 2015-16 harvest.
Once we’ve made the selection, we will begin the process of working with the cooperative to provide training on any steps of the harvest and processing of coffee that they might be unfamiliar with, in order to produce coffee that meets our high standards. DLG field trainers will visit the group repeatedly to provide on-site, practical guidance on those subjects to ensure that farmers have the knowledge and resources they need. They will also evaluate what areas of assistance the cooperative could benefit from as we hope to scale up sourcing from them in future years.
If all goes well, a year from now we’ll be preparing to ship a few thousand pounds of high-quality coffee from a new group of small-holder farmers, and beginning the process of adding one more cooperative for the following year.