After a quick yet full trip to La Suiza, the DLG team and Chet Sadler from the Sanibel Captiva Rotary traveled to the Ija’tz Cooperative in San Lucas Toliman. Carol, DLG’s Tour Manager and I (Director of Development), traveled early that morning to make it to Ija’tz around lunch time. We spent the afternoon picking Arnulfo’s brain about tourism in San Lucas Toliman. Considering San Lucas is on the shores of Lake Atitlan and is such a beautiful community rich in history and tradition, we wanted to learn more about how we can support the cooperative through Community Tourism.
On Thursday, May 2nd, four members of the DLG team (Juan - Executive Director, Timo - Technical Assistance Coordinator, Ceci – Marketing and Sales Coordinator and Elisandro – our best driver and member of the Youth Group from San Miguel Escobar Coop) departed from Antigua at 5:45 am in the DLG's good old pick-up truck to visit La Suiza Cooperative.
The De la Gente Microlot Competition was born out an idea to identify the best coffees produced by the members of cooperative in San Miguel Escobar and add them to our offering list, facilitating farmer-roaster connections on a personal level. It is also an opportunity for the producers to earn a premium price and an incentive to work toward quality of their coffee. This year we hosted the competition for the second time.
Imagine you live in Guatemala and you have just paid off a 12 year mortgage to the government. Now you and your 116 fellow community members are the proud new collective owners of an old coffee plantation where you took up residence after the end of the 36-year civil war. The farm has seen better days, and now the fields are overgrown, the machinery has fallen into disrepair, and the only source of electricity is a small hydro-powered system that requires some tender loving care.
De la Gente is excited to introduce the women of North Fork Roasting Company, as part of our series on Women in Agriculture and Business. North Fork Roasting Company, on Long Island, NY is a coffee shop and roasterie which was founded by two incredible woman and has an all female leadership team. Jess & Jenni the Co-Founders along with Bri the General Manager visited and volunteered with us for the past couple weeks. We are so excited to share their story during our week long celebration of International Women's Day.
“We (women) have to value ourselves. WE HAVE VALUE. If we don’t value ourselves we can’t succeed and agriculture is important for everyone. If we don’t have farmers, we don’t have any vegetables or food.” ~ Marta Salazar on the importance of women recognizing their own value and the important work they do.
The community of La Suiza was formed after the end of the Guatemalan civil war, when a group of displaced people discovered an incredible find nestled into the mountains of the San Marcos department (western Guatemala, not far from the Mexican border). A group of families and individuals came together and, with the support of government financing, purchased an old German coffee plantation called La Suiza and began to construct a new life together.
October 16th is World Day of Action for Food Sovereignty, part of a larger movement to ensure that people have the right to be in control of their food and have access to wholesome, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.
As part of De la Gente’s mission to generate economic opportunities for coffee communities, DLG works with cooperatives to not just grow coffee, but support diversification of other crops too. This is especially important in light of the recent roya crisis. Check out the earlier posts that profile La Suiza community’s food security pilot project.
Food sovereignty also has ties to the Campesino a Campesino movement, which began in the early 1970s in the Guatemalan highlands. It’s a method of exchanging knowledge and information through informal networks to share and develop successful growing techniques. Campesino a Campesino is now a movement of hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers around the world.
De la Gente uses farmer-to-farmer training in agricultural education among the cooperatives that it works with, particularly for roya training, and has proven to be very successful. Learn more about DLG projects and how you can support them!
Thanks to donations, De la Gente has been able to further develop the Combat Roya Program (roya is a fungus, also known as coffee leaf rust, that attacks and kills coffee plants) and continue to support the cooperatives with whom we work. In our evaluations which we undertook last year, it came to light that some of the cooperatives had lost 80% or more of their crops due to roya - leaving them with almost no income to support their families and little hope for a future in coffee farming. Some families had already decided to leave the coffee industry and find work elsewhere. We needed to respond immediately to support these farmers and their families with both short-term relief and a move towards long-term sustainability.
Our 2014 program has so far focused on the following work:
Investment in established and new crops
Training and knowledge sharing to improve production practices
Strategic cooperative planning
Strengthening networks between cooperatives
So far this year, we have worked on several roya projects in the communities of San Miguel Escobar, Santa Anita and La Suiza. We are also continuing to undertake training and strategic planning with the cooperatives of APPAECE, UPC and Santa Maria de Jesus.
Here’s a highlight of some of these projects:
- In San Miguel Escobar, DLG organized a farmer consultation to discuss with the cooperative members their current needs and next requirements to treat and prevent roya. While they have been affected, due to early awareness and treatment the San Miguel cooperative has managed to control the impact of roya. Continued prevention therefore is the primary need. The cooperative members let us know their problems and came to a collaborative decision about what treatment materials would be most useful to them.
- In May, DLG visited the cooperative of La Suiza, situated in the department of San Marcos in western Guatemala. There are 117 members of this cooperative and 600 community members in total. It is a very rural community which struggles with isolation, poverty and malnutrition. During this trip we coordinated a community consultation with both the board of directors and all cooperative members to assess their needs and to hear how they would like our support. We also conducted a field analysis of their current production. Alongside the community we planned to organize fungicide distribution and food crop distribution in the short-term alongside a longer term plan of processing and quality improvement.
Replacing lost crops
We have been working with the community of Santa Anita La Union for the past two years, supporting them in their struggles against roya. This community was hit hardest with high losses of crops, a consequence of climate conditions ideal for the spread of roya and a lack of inputs to strengthen their plants. We have been supporting them in replacing their crops. In 2013, we distributed 9,000 young plants to cooperative members. These plants are making good progress with the inputs and training that was delivered. This year, we also supported them in the building of a 10,000 plant tree nursery. De la Gente assisted with the planning, implementation and training on the management of the nursery. The community is currently caring for the plants and will organize the distribution of the plants amongst community members when they are ready to be planted.
Distribution of roya prevention materials
- Following the consultation in June, we distributed fertilizers and fungicides to members of the San Miguel cooperative at 50% of the cost. This ensured that members that most needed them were able to get supplies while also financially investing in the care of their land. Through this distribution we were able to support 18 farmers.
- Following the distribution of replacement crops and the start of the tree nursery, the next stage for Santa Anita is to focus on investing in the care and protection of these plants so they will be ready for production next year. Thanks to donations, we have been able to help the farmers apply a range of fertilizers, fungicides and foliars to their crops. In March, we conducted the first round of applications, in April we followed up with further applications of foliars and fungicides to protect their crops, and finally in June, we visited the community to apply a third round of fertilizers to boost the crops growth. Now the community can look towards a better harvest in October, and continue to invest in their crops for a much improved 2015 harvest. Alongside all input distributions we conducted training on analyzing the problems with the production, best care practices and available treatment options.
- In the promotion of cross-cooperative collaboration the San Miguel cooperative generously loaned their motorized backpack sprayer to Santa Anita to help them treat their plants more efficiently and effectively.
- One of the most devastating impacts of roya has been that the lack of income has led to shortages of food within households. Roya has brought to light the vulnerability of coffee farmers and the over-reliance on coffee as the family's sole resource. We are working with all of our cooperatives to encourage diversification of both income and crop growth.
- In July in La Suiza, we began a food security pilot project - to bring food crops to the families. Working with approximately 30 women in the community, we implemented three food gardens and distributed a range of seeds - from radishes to tomatoes to beans. The women are the leaders of the whole project from preparation to maintenance to harvest. We delivered training on the best practices and will follow up with additional training and seeds in September. We hope this is the start of a healthier future for the families. Growing food crops is a big change for the farmers here, and the skills they have learned during training will last a lifetime.
Strategic planning and professional development
- In July, we held our first ever DLG conference. We funded farmer representatives and leaders from all of our member cooperatives across Guatemala to attend. We held a training session to cover production and processing methods in the morning, and a strategic planning session in the afternoon. The following two days, the representatives attended the National Coffee Conference of Guatemala where they had the opportunity to meet other leaders in the coffee industry and learn about current issues in the industry such as roya and climate change.
All of our programs are based on a vision of long-term sustainability for the cooperatives we work alongside, and we will be continuing to work with the farmers to reach this objective. Thank you to those that have donated to our Combat Roya Program. With your help, we have implemented projects that otherwise would not have been achieved. We need to continue our work as roya will continue to be a factor for years to come and the cooperatives and families with whom we work need continued help for the next couple of years until they are back on their feet and can be self-sustaining once again., You can donate online at www.dlgcoffee.org/donate-today.
De la Gente’s sales model – selling coffee direct from farmers to consumers – lies at the heart of our ability to enable cooperatives to capture the full value of the coffee they produce. By retaining control of the coffee from producer to sale, we ensure the best quality for our buyers and the best economic benefit for our farmers.
Our goal is to make ordering coffee direct from cooperatives as simple as possible, whether you’re a coffee drinker, roaster, cafe or institution. This past week, we packed up our first container of coffee from this year’s crop. So when all 38,550 lbs arrive in the US, you can order coffee from us just as easily as if we were any other coffee roaster or green coffee importer. Except, of course, we’re not – when you buy from De la Gente, your purchase stretches all the way to the farmers in Guatemala who grew that coffee.
Our first container of coffee has just left Guatemala, and will land in the US at the port of New York/New Jersey, where it will then travel by truck through Chicago on its way to Woodville, WI and arrive around the third week of July. You can follow our posts on Facebook and Twitter to track the shipment. We also expect to package another container this summer to ship at the end of July, so keep looking for updates!
This post was written by Emmy, DLG Community Engagement intern.
If I had to describe coffee growers here in Guatemala, they are diligent farmers that are determined when faced with challenges. Growing coffee is a big investment, as it takes several years before a coffee plant reaches maturity and produces fruit. From there, it requires careful nurturing to ensure a high quality product.
As a sensitive crop, coffee is vulnerable to weather and climate variations, which are becoming more frequent and intense with global climate change. One of the resulting problems that has swept Central America is the roya fungus, rust colored spots that appear on the coffee leaves and can destroy the plant. The fungus first appeared in Central America in the 1970s but has become more aggressive in the last few years. The fungus cannot survive below about 10°C or above 1,300 meters. Climate change means that higher altitudes are becoming warmer, and thus the disease is affecting more and more plants. As such, there’s been a global shortage of coffee. Coffee is Guatemala’s top export, so roya has been especially detrimental for Guatemalans.
Last year’s roya estimates put Guatemala’s overall infection rate at 70 percent, and the government declared it a national emergency. Some of the communities that DLG works with lost 80 percent of their plants. For many families coffee is their only source of income. As a result, malnutrition and lack of income for school fees are major concerns. De la Gente is working with cooperatives to help communities recover from destroyed plants due to roya and take preventative measures to reduce future losses with peer-to-peer farmer training. With the support of individuals in the cooperatives and the staff at DLG, farmers are determined to remain optimistic and face roya head on. You can learn more about DLG’s Combat Roya Program and check out their short video to learn more and how you can contribute. One way to do so is from the advice of a British coffee importer, who reminds coffee drinkers that “people need to look for brands that support the producers”; and that’s exactly what De la Gente does.
Renton, A. (2014, March 30). Latin America: How climate change will wipe out coffee crops – and farmers. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/30/latin-america-climate-change-coffee-crops-rust-fungus-threat-hemileaia-vastatrix
Stone, C. (2014, May 31). Fungus, climate change threatening big part of global coffee supply. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140531-coffee-rust-columbia-brazil-cost-problems/
Over the years the farmers of San Miguel Escobar have learned the importance of diversifying their incomes, and growing not only coffee, but a variety of crops. Last week we (the volunteers) took a break from working in coffee and helped Mercedes and his family in their peanut butter business. The young entrepreneurs behind the business are Mercedes’ daughters, Lidia and Lilian. Lilian is 23 years old and recently completed a business administration degree, and Lidia is 18 years old and is in university.
Mercedes’ family has grown peanuts for years, but a few years ago they realized that there was a growing market for peanut butter. Part of the experience of being a volunteer with De la Gente is not just helping the farmers in their work, but learning from them all about agriculture. He explained that the peanuts grow underground (as the peanut is not actually a nut, but a legume, originally domesticated in the Andes) for five months before they harvest the whole plant from the ground. The family then brings the harvested peanuts to their house and leaves them to dry for one to two weeks. They are then ready to be de-shelled. This is all done by hand and requires a phenomenal amount of work, as we experienced. We got through about 15 pounds in three hours, and he has several hundred pounds of peanuts to work through! We are now expert workers and learned that the trick is to pinch the top of the shell to make for easier opening.
To make the peanut butter, his daughters roast the peanuts over a comal, or a traditional hot cooking plate and then take off the cascara, or skin and then grind the peanuts by hand. The result is a thick, all-natural peanut butter. There are no additives or added salt, sugar, or oil. Just pure deliciousness. Currently, Lidia and Lilian sell their peanut butter at their home and in the DLG office. At Q20 a jar it is a steal - so if you’re near Antigua, stop by the office and try some!
It was great to learn first hand from Mercedes all the hard work that goes into cultivating the peanuts and the process of making peanut butter.
Pickersgill, B. (2007). Domestication of plants in the Americas: Insights from mendelian and molecular genetics. doi:10.1093/aob/mcm193
This post was written by Emmy, an intern with DLG studying natural resources and sustainable development.
There are multiple aspects that make De La Gente Coffee fantastic. As a treehugger I was happy to learn that DLG coffee is sustainable – socially, economically, and environmentally. Besides being delicious coffee that is sold via direct trade, ensuring that the farmers receive 100% of the profits, DLG co-op farmers are contributing to more eco-friendly practices by producing shade grown coffee, which has many ecological benefits.
On a recent coffee tour through DLG’s community tourism program I was able to see one of the farmers in the cooperative’s coffee plants shaded by a variety of trees. Andres, the farmer, explained that trees, like avocado trees, can be used to provide shade while also serving a second purpose of supplying edible fruits or supplemental income for the family. During the thinning season, the branches of the trees can be used for firewood. Fallen leaves from trees also turn into organic matter and increase soil fertility. This agroforestry system provides other benefits as well. Trees in coffee fields act as a biological corridor and provide habitat for many species, especially for migratory birds that can also fend off pests. A variety of trees on coffee fields also increases pollinators like bees that are essential for coffee growing. Moreover, trees help reduce soil erosion particularly in mountainous areas, like here in San Miguel Escobar on Volcán Agua, where many of the farmers in the San Miguel Cooperative have their coffee fields. Shade grown coffee soils have also shown to store higher levels of carbon, which is beneficial for both soil health and thus plant health, as well as sequestering carbon dioxide (in addition to in the trees) to help mitigate climate change. Studies show that these soils also have better infiltration rates, meaning there’s less soil runoff and better water quality.
All in all, trees for shade grown coffee provide ecosystem services for farmers and help contribute to environmental conservation.
Rice, R & Bedoya, M. (2010). The ecological benefits of shade-grown coffee. Retrieved from http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/coffee/bird_friendly/ecological-benefits-of-shade-grown-coffee.cfm
One of our recent visitors, Grace, documented the time she and her family was spending in Guatemala. Please enjoy a snippet of one of her entries, reflecting her time with us at De La Gente. Enjoy her her entire blog at: http://graceinguatemala.tumblr.com/
After lunch the boys and I grabbed a quick ice cream at our favorite place near Parque Central, Sobra Mesa, and then we headed out to San Juan del Obispo, a small pueblo 15 minutes from Antigua. There we were met by our translator and escorted to the home of Carlos, a metal-work artist. Arranged by a people’s coop called “De La Gente” (who also arranged for our coffee plantation tour a few weeks ago) we spent the afternoon learning to make sheet metal into art— a butterfly candle holder for Owen and a decorative seahorse for Mason— in Carlos’ backyard.
This was super cool. We scratched a pattern into sheet metal, cut it with giant metal cutting scissors, banged it with various tools to create texture and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Well, Mason maybe did not enjoy the minute when he crushed his finger with a heavy hammer, but other than that.
While some of the work on the butterfly was too tough for Owen, he amused himself playing with scraps of metal and in the process ultimately made a “Christmas ornament” that vaguely resembles a leaf. He is very proud of it.
In addition, Carlos, like many other Guatemalans, has chickens and dogs and rabbits in his yard. One of the rabbits had just given birth to 7 babies, one of which fell through the cage and was sort of crawling blind and hairless across the yard. Owen discovered it and we got to watch as Carlos made a safe box for the babies and returned the newborn to its siblings and mother. None of us had seen a newborn rabbit before, so this was a pretty exciting event.
After 3 hours we were mostly done with our work, but there was still painting and polishing to do. Carlos will be finishing up our pieces for us tonight and we will return tomorrow to pick them up. For this unique hands-on cultural experience, complete with English translator and 2 finished products made with our own hands (mostly) to take home as souvenirs, we paid $64. I would have paid twice that.
This workshop, along with our coffee plantation tour and lunch with Eduardo and Francisca a few weeks ago, are two of my favorite experiences from our trip to Guatemala. In both cases we had an exceptional and authentic experience, as opposed to the “tours” that are specifically designed for groups of tourists. These were real working-class Guatemalans and we were invited into their homes to see how they live and participate in how they make a living. It wasn’t watered down, sanitized, or modified to meet the high-maintenance needs of American tourists. I wish i had taken more of the artist workshops offered by De La Gente.
I don't know about you, but I have always enjoyed a warm cup of coffee in the morning while reading, getting ready for work, or watching my favorite show. The taste is bittersweet as well as the memories. I never could have imagined how much work went into that delightful cup of coffee. My name is Jessica, I am from Michigan, and I am a volunteer at De La Gente.
I have learned so much while volunteering at De La Gente. A lot of times, we think that volunteering means that we are helping someone who is in need. What I have been learning is that we are all in need of something. One person may need money, another person may need friendship, and another may need a taste of reality. I have put a lot of hours into helping small-scale farmers here in San Miguel Escobar, and I feel like they have helped me more than I have helped them. I may have helped them attain more money, but the things that they have taught me and the relationships I have made are priceless. I have also had the opportunity to meet various other volunteers and people from around the world.
Volunteering has shaped my sense of the world and myself. It was an opportunity that I was blessed to have and I will always rejoice in. I have been working with De La Gente for the past five weeks. In the first week, I got to pick coffee with the local farmers and sort the green coffee. In weeks after, I sorted and picked coffee as well but each experience was unique. One time, a farmer named Lesbia showed me how to roast coffee over the fire and then sort it by hand. Another time, I got to ride in the back of a pick-up truck on Volcano Agua to pick coffee. I was also able to help lay bricks to build additional walls in the house of one of the farmers. Each project I was able to work on is unforgettable.
I am a Biology major and I learned a lot of interesting things about the coffee plants and how to care for them from the farmers. It was so cool to learn about the things that make the coffee a higher quality as well. In my freetime, I have been researching about a coffee fungus called roya. It has had a major impact on coffee plantations all around the world. It is very rare that a coffee plantation in Central America has not been impacted by this fungus. Roya infects the leaves of the coffee plant when wind or water carry its spores from plant to plant. The biggest outbreak is seen during the wet season, because the fungus needs constant moisture to spread through the leaf. It enters through the stomata on the underside of the leaf and then spreads throughout the leaf causing the leaf to fall and die prematurely. The resulting lack of leaves creates a lower level of photosynthesis for the plant which in turn causes less fruit(coffee) to be produced. This is a major problem on all of the farms here in Guatemala, and it is expensive to treat. There is an effort being made to produce fungus resistant breeds of coffee plants, but in the meantime expensive fungicides are being used for treatment. Coffee is already a tricky thing to produce, and the roya fungus is not making it any easier.
It is amazing how much work and skill goes into making a delicious cup of coffee. The coffee trees need shade and altitude, you have to pick the berries when they are red, they need to be dried for the proper amount of time, and then they must be sorted and roasted properly. Nothing makes me appreciate a cup of coffee more than this, especially after meeting the generous, friendly farmers and their families who do this work! I have heard from the farmers how much the organization De La Gente has increased the value of their coffee. Now they can sell it green or roasted instead of in berry form. It changes their work load and standard of living dramatically! I could not have had a better experience here in Guatemala!