Contact name: Britt Rosenberg
Project URL: www.mercycorps.org
Organization Name: Mercy Corps
Project: Innovative Market Alliance for Rural Entrepreneurs – IMARE
Additional information on location of project: Quiche and Huehuetenango, Western Highlands of Guatemala
Projected Impact: 800
According to a United Nations World Food Program study, Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition in Latin America and is the fourth highest in the world. Smallholder farmers in Guatemala, many from rural indigenous communities, face difficulties accessing profitable markets for their products, including coffee, and they often lack the tools and knowledge necessary to improve their family’s nutrition. As a result, farmers face what is commonly known as “los meses flacos,” or the thin months. This means that some families are left without food or an income for five to seven months out of the year. The Innovative Market Alliance for Rural Entrepreneurs (IMARE) program helps farmers overcome barriers, tap into new markets, and increase their incomes to lift themselves out of poverty.
IMARE, supported by USAID, Keurig Green Mountain, and other partners, links rural smallholder farmers to high value commercial markets by helping them organize into producer groups and improve the production, processing, packaging, and transportation of their crops. The program also helps farmers build their confidence, as well as negotiation and business management skills required to enter more competitive formal markets. IMARE ensures that increased income leads to improved food security. This is done by helping farmers diversify their crops and by providing training on storage and preparation techniques for nutritious foods. The program has shifted this year to help farmers cope with the devastating impact of coffee leaf rust, better known as “la roya.”
Now an epidemic in Guatemala, coffee leaf rust is further threatening the food security and livelihoods of already vulnerable families. The fungus attacks the leaves of coffee plants, triggering premature defoliation and reducing the plant’s photosynthesis capacity, leading to fewer and smaller coffee cherries, which means a smaller, lower quality crop. For the 73,000 smallholder farmers relying on a small parcel of land to provide for their family’s needs, the consequences are dire.
Mercy Corps conducted a survey of these smallholder farmers in the rural Western Highlands where we work. They all reported a decline in coffee prices, while the decreases in their production grew exponentially. Last year, only seven percent of the farmers saw their production drop by more than 60 percent. This year, 51 percent lost more than half of their crop and subsequent income, and 85 percent say that this up coming year will be even worse. We also surveyed coffee pickers, only 56 percent of whom found work in the coffee fields this year, compared to 79 percent last year. Their daily rates also dropped by 20 percent.
NGOs, like Mercy Corps, are collaborating with the government and the coffee industry to identify immediate interventions and more long-term solutions. The IMARE program is helping cooperatives grow rust resistant seedlings for renovation, teaching new crop management techniques, and helping farmers to diversify crops for additional income generation and for family food consumption. Though progress is being made, more support for coffee farmers in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America is still needed. One coffee farming family called this “the year of the crisis,” stating that no one knew how bad leaf rust would become.
What You Can Do to Help
Mercy Corps relies on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations to make our work in Guatemala and in other coffee growing regions possible. Visit www.mercycorps.org/ways-to-help to learn more about how you can get involved. You can also stay connected to our work and see how we are making a difference by following our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.