Guatemala is well known for its majestic volcanoes, picturesque lakes, hard-working people, and world-class coffee. It is also considered one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Although statistics vary, it is estimated that 56% of the Guatemalan population lives in poverty, and slightly over 20% in extreme poverty.
After petroleum, coffee is the second most valuable commodity in the world. It is estimated that the global coffee industry earns in excess of $60 billion annually; yet, less than 10% of those earnings end up in the countries where the coffee is produced, and slightly less than 0.5% of the total earnings translate into wages for those who actually labor to produce the coffee.
After Colombia, Guatemala ranks second in the world in the amount of high-grade coffee it produces, and has the highest percentage of its crop classified as "high quality" by worldwide buyers. While exports of sugar, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables are grown, coffee remains Guatemala's largest export, representing around 15% of the Guatemalan Gross National Product.
Even though coffee represents a large portion of the Guatemalan economy, the vast majority of farmers are small-holder, subsistence farmers who live in poverty. As small-holder coffee farmers, members of our partner cooperative are especially susceptible to events such as global price shocks, natural disasters, climate change, and denial of access to credit. For example, due to climate change, the presence of roya (coffee leaf rust) has increased, and some of the farmers have lost up to 90% of their coffee plants. Given that it can take up to 4 years for new coffee plants to produce fruit, these types of events can devastate farmers by wiping out their source of income for the foreseeable future.
Due to the extreme levels of poverty, most Guatemalan families lack the means to pay for basic necessities like housing, nutrition, healthcare, and education. Because of this, it isn't uncommon for children as young as 10 to hold jobs in order to help the family make ends meet, lowering enrollment rates in schools to a staggering 35% in rural areas. Many families also live in houses made of cornstalks and have limited access to affordable healthcare and nutrition.
All of this means that farmers face a daunting challenge to break out of the cycle of poverty. For these reasons, De la Gente focuses its efforts on Guatemalan coffee farmers and farming communities.