Santa Ana is situated in the San Marcos region, in the North-western highlands of the country. It is a rural, isolated community of 35 families who speak 5 different languages: Spanish and four Mayan ones. The community was established in 1998, after Guatemala’s violent and destructive 36 year-long civil war. A group of ex-guerilla fighters, who had spent the better part of their lives in the mountains fighting for their ideals and hopes of a brighter future, decided to reintegrate into civilian society by purchasing an old coffee farm with a low-interest government loan offered as a part of the Peace Accords.
With their characteristic zeal for learning and teamwork, members of Santa Anita dedicated themselves to figuring out everything they needed to know about growing, processing, and selling coffee. The farmers are small-holders, each owning approximately 30 cuerdas (10 acres) within a 30 minute walk. All coffee is farmed and processed by hand.
For a number of years the community flourished. With generous international support they built infrastructure and found buyers, and had a healthy coffee business that provided income to make payments on their mortgage and support their families. Life as coffee farmers, it turned out, was hard work but another way to live out their revolutionary dreams.
San Marcos, the warmest of Guatemala's coffee-growing regions, also has the highest rainfall pattern, reaching up to 200 inches (5,000 mm) a year and humidity levels of 70-80%. The seasonal rains come sooner than in other regions, producing the earliest flowering. The northern portion of the department is mountainous, with the two highest volcanoes in Central America within its borders.
As has happened with many coffee cooperatives in Guatemala and elsewhere, sadly, success did not last forever. First came internal divisions, disagreement over the direction of the community that made it more difficult to work together around a united strategy. That’s when the Association of Coffee Producers of Santa Anita (APCASA), De la Gente’s current partner cooperative consisting of just 8 members, was founded.
Then the natural disaster of roya (coffee leaf rust) struck, wiping out the majority of their plants. Suddenly, coffee was not a source of hope but an economic disaster. Santa Anita’s production suffered heavily and for a while they were unable to export any of their coffee. De la Gente has known Santa Anita for a number of years, but our work with them picked up during the crisis. With support from the LATA Foundation we were able to fund a nursery for replacement plants. Moreover, farmers from Santa Anita were trained on integrated pest management and received agricultural products to protect their plants through our Combat Roya program.
As a result, APCASA made a comeback in 2016 when we signed a small contract for just over 1,000 pounds of coffee and we have been purchasing their product since then. In 2018 the farmers started to dry mill their coffee themselves, which was another step in the cooperative’s development.
De la Gente supports Santa Anita not only with coffee commercialization and cooperative assistance, but also through our community tourism programs. The community welcomes visitors from all over the world, including groups of students visiting as part of their service learning trips with DLG. It is a great opportunity to learn first-hand about the recent history of Guatemala and, of course, coffee production.
You can learn more about Santa Anita, watching a documentary about them.
Rigoberto Ramirez is a charismatic and eloquent leader. He spent 28 years fighting for land reforms and basic rights for all Guatemalans as the second in command of the guerilla group he belonged to. When the civil war ended Rigo had to find a new home, as the community he comes from was completely destroyed during the conflict. Now, with over 15 years of experience in coffee, he says:
"We didn't win the revolution in Guatemala, but at least we have Santa Anita. (...) It is a whole new and different world, but we don't want to just live under the coffee trees. Instead we want to learn the language of coffee."