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 https://www.dlgcoffee.org/donate