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Roya

World Day of Action for Food Sovereignty

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.

Timo, one of the veteran San Miguel farmers, trains some of the Santa Anita coffee farmers about roya.

Timo, one of the veteran San Miguel farmers, trains some of the Santa Anita coffee farmers about roya.

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!

Roya Update Fall 2014

L: Harvesting a healthy coffee plant. R top: dead coffee fruit due to roya. R bottom: signs of roya

L: Harvesting a healthy coffee plant. R top: dead coffee fruit due to roya. R bottom: signs of roya

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:

  • Crop replacement

  • Investment in established and new crops

  • Training and knowledge sharing to improve production practices

  • Livelihood diversification

  • 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:

Community consultations

Fertilizer training in La Suiza

Fertilizer training in La Suiza

  • 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

Young coffee pilones at the new tree nursery in Santa Anita, made possible through donations.

Young coffee pilones at the new tree nursery in Santa Anita, made possible through donations.

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

Fertilizer training in La Suiza with cooperative members

Fertilizer training in La Suiza with cooperative members

  • 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.

Livelihood projects

  • 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

Representatives from DLG's partner cooperatives

Representatives from DLG's partner cooperatives

  • 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 https://www.dlgcoffee.org/donate

Guest post: Farmer resilience

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.

Coffee plant with roya

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.

Coffee field destroyed by roya

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.

Timoteo conducting a peer-to-peer farmer training

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/