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.
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.
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/
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
Santa Anita la Union is a small community in the western highlands of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, established in 1996 after the 36-year fight for human and land rights by indigenous groups. The rich, volcanic soil around Santa Anita and neighboring Colomba is known by coffee buyers for yielding some of the highest quality coffee in the world. However, it is also known as a region where people struggle to survive, with high unemployment and extreme poverty.
De la Gente works to support the coffee cooperative in Santa Anita, named APCASA, consisting of 10 families. As the area has been devastated by the coffee fungus roya, De la Gente is working to provide better technology, new coffee plants, and training on use of fungicides and fertilizers. The community of Santa Anita is working to develop their livelihoods through growing coffee, macadamia, banana and avocado trees, and building their ecotourism program.
The families have had a very difficult two years due to the devastating effects of roya - leaving them with very poor harvests and little income for the year. They are currently struggling to provide their families with even the basics such as nutritious food and clean water.
In February, De la Gente distributed 10 water filters to the community - 1 for each family, allowing them to have access to safe, clean drinking water. The double benefit is that this will reduce their costs on purchasing bottled water, which can be a huge expense.
The families were so appreciative for the support. Thanks to generous supporters De la Gente is able to help make life a little easier for this community.
In January, De la Gente distributed nearly $16,000 in loans from our mircofinance program to 22 different farmers. The loans allow cooperative members to either grow their businesses or supplement their harvest if they are waiting for their own plants to mature and produce more fruit. Since coffee fruit costs less than processed green coffee and roasted coffee, the farmers are able to increase their profits by purchasing fruit at a lower price and then processing the coffee themselves and selling the final product at a much higher price.
A special event took place in February, as multiple cooperative representatives from across the region came together to celebrate the inauguration of APCASAs new bodega. The bodega, which is typically used as a dry store for coffee and processing machinery, also serves as meeting space for community and inter-cooperative discussions and training.
The meeting was a grass roots initiative, organized and facilitated by Don Rigo, community leader of APCASA, and had 3 objectives:
- Inauguration of the new building, implemented by As Green.
- Undertake a coffee cupping – to demonstrate to farmers the importance of understanding the flavors of their coffee. A cupping is an essential part of the decision making process for buyers – if farmers want to export to international markets this is an activity they need to become familiar with. Samples from each of the groups was tested by all of the farmers. Representatives from Quijote Kaffee, a German-based coffee roasting company, led the cupping training.
- Build the network of cooperatives and small scale farmers - friendship, trust and knowledge sharing are essential to the progress and future sustainability of small scale coffee growers. The meeting served as a platform for discussions and knowledge sharing on topics such as exporting coffee and Roya.
Check out these links for press on the event.
Thanks to a generous donation from Mike Hatfield of Zion Coffee, the APCASA cooperative in Santa Anita received a much-needed machine called a demucilager, which is used to produce semi-washed coffee. The machine uses very little water compared to other processing techniques, making it very useful in areas where water is in short supply. The machine is also considerably less labor intensive. The demucilager will allow the co-op to process their coffee as a centralized group. APCASA plans to install the machine in their newly constructed bodega, which was financed partly by De la Gente and partly by a Rotary Club.
“This machine is just what we need in order to produce coffee for export,” said Riogoberto Augustin Ramirez. “We cannot thank Mike enough for his generous donation and support of APCASA.”