Rows of dark green coffee plants line the winding roads leading up to the town of San Pablo in the Guatemalan highlands, extending across the hills. Coffee is the main source of income for people in this part of the country. Most residents here grow and care for their own coffee plants, have grandparents and parents who produced coffee, and are now passing that knowledge on to their children. “You have two options in this part of Guatemala: grow coffee or migrate,” says Cipriano Juventino Niz Chilel, the president of the Entre Rios coffee cooperative in San Pablo.
For over a century, the residents in these mountainous towns have frequently chosen the first option, boosting Guatemala’s position in the global coffee markets. But in recent years, a crisis in the sector has deepened—thanks to low global coffee prices, booming production in countries such as Honduras and Vietnam, and recurring coffee plagues. As the industry struggles to stabilize, rural Guatemalans in the highlands can no longer rely on coffee as a secure income source. Increasingly, they are choosing to leave for the United States.