The Guatemalan Western Highlands are known worldwide for high elevations, varied microclimates, and great coffees. The coffees from these regions present unique characteristics that have buyers from around the world exploring its most remote areas in search of the best coffees. However, many smallholder coffee farmers producing these excellent coffees struggle with food security and lack of access to resources and education. These regions suffer from immense poverty, Huehuetenango averaging 80% and San Marcos with a general poverty around 74%; making hunger and malnutrition a prominent issue in the area.
To address this matter, The Rural Value Chains Project (RVCP) is focusing on supporting smallholder coffee farmers and assisting them to build sustainable livelihoods. The RVCP falls within the framework of the Feed the Future Initiative (FtF), impelled by the Government of the United States of America through USAID, as a contribution to food and nutritional security, by the means of economic development and combating poverty. The Rural Value Chains Project is implemented by collaborative efforts between ANACAFÉ, CONFECOOP, FUNCAFÉ and FUNDASISTEMAS.
An Integrated Model for Sustainable Impact
Guatemala’s FtF strategy aims to reduce rural poverty and malnutrition in the Western Highlands through market-led agricultural development, prevention and treatment of malnutrition, and improvements to humanitarian food assistance and social safety nets. Specifically, The RVCP supports rural producer associations to expand their reach, improve their market linkages, and strengthen their members’ ability to produce high-quality products for export. These efforts increase access to food by expanding and diversifying rural income, and contribute to improving the nutritional status of families that benefit under the projects programs of Food Security and Nutrition. This is accomplished by expanding the participation of poor rural households in productive value chains in horticulture, coffee and handicrafts and linking those chains to local, regional, and international markets in rural households in 22 municipalities in the departments of San Marcos and Huehuetenango.
The Rural Value Chains Project looks to improve the competitiveness of small holders along the value chain through technical assistance, training and capacitation, and the implementation of agricultural technology. Additionally, it seeks to assists the producers to improve the quality of their products as well as their productivity through the implementation of best practices, so they can in turn commercialize their products in better markets and increase profits.
Beyond this, the Project seeks to promote behavioral changes among the producers and their families to ensure that their increased income is sustainable, and it’s improving the nutritional state of the families in the short, medium and long term. The Project takes a holistic approach in communities to create sustainable impact by focusing on diverse areas simultaneously: education and capacitation; entrepreneurial development; gender integration; environmental mitigation; food security and improved nutrition; and private and public sector engagement. This integrated model was recognized this 2016 by the SCAA as one of the top 3 Innovating for Sustainability Projects.
For the past three years, the Project has given continuous support to 157 groups comprised of over 7,500 coffee growers, 2,000 vegetable growers, and over 900 artisans. Since the inception of the project, a total of 641 hectares of coffee have been renovated, and producer groups have benefited from new coffee plants that will be productive as well as provide a high quality cup. In addition, they have benefited from technified and artisanal wet-mills to process coffee, along with capacitation to apply best practices.
FUNCAFE, an assisting partner, through its Food Security and Nutrition Program (Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (SAN)), has reached over 5,000 families in parallel work with the producer communities with the purpose of reducing hunger and malnutrition in the designated communities. Families have been trained in food production and preparation, nutrition, and health; and 4,500 new family gardens have been built in the farming communities with organic agriculture. Moreover, to encourage younger generations and provide education amongst young family members, numerous scholarships have been given to complete a specialized high school education diploma in horticulture and coffee production.
Elvia´s Success Story
Surrounded by the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes is San Antonio Huista, a picturesque town located in the department of Huehuetenango, in northwestern Guatemala. The municipality is composed of five villages. To support their families, the people of this place are dedicated to growing cereals, bananas, sugar cane, and coffee.
In the village of Rancho Viejo lives Mrs. Elvia Maria Monzon, who is 45 years old. Elvia is a widowed mother with five children. Most of their income comes from cultivating coffee and additional income is obtained from the sale of other agricultural products. Currently, she manages a small plot coffee under 5 hectares, and since 2013 is a member of the Association of Coffee Growers Integral Rancho Viejo (AIDEC NGO)
Elvia says that thanks to the support received by being a member of AIDEC NGO, and through the advice of the Rural Value Chains Project, she has managed to implement new agronomic practices that have given excellent results in increasing her quality and productivity. The best practices she now implements are soil conservation, fertilization of plants based on soil analysis, agro-forestal systems and shade management, productivity management, renewal of exhausted plantations, composting, and wastewater treatment processing after washing the coffee.
Practicing what she has learned in training and technical assistance, Elvia is now properly managing her coffee plantation, and has become an example in her community. Not only does Elvia sell through the association in order to receive better benefits, but she is part of the Fiscal Committee of the Association and is an exemplary leader in her community.
Looking for a Better Future
Like Elvia, there are many other success stories. The continuous work done through the Rural Value Chain´s Project (RVCP) for the past 3 years, and efforts to improve quality and productivity, are now showing great results. Various groups are producing excellent coffees, some scoring over 85 points, and are excited to test new trade models and enter into new markets. They are now looking to build relationships directly with buyers that are willing to recognize their quality. Capacitation, improved practices, and better trade relationships, will empower these smallholder groups to be self-sustainable and thrive in their communities, and in turn, continue to produce great tasting coffees.
Get to know the groups, try their coffee, and help them engage in new and better models of doing business! If you are a roaster looking for high-quality coffees and interested in getting connected with smallholder farmers in Guatemala, please email us at [email protected] and make sure to visit us at SCAA in the Guatemalan Coffees Booth.