What the Future for Coffee Could Be

vf_Roya Recovery FotoIt has been widely recognized that hunger is commonplace at origin. Yet, specialty coffee continues to use the term ‘sustainable’ as an important marketing tool. Given the reality at origin, a remarkable amount of coffee is sold as sustainable.

Hunger is unsustainable. It will continue to eat away at any attempt toward a sustainable future at origin until the trade stops believing its own rhetoric, and sets upon a responsible course toward that ambitious goal.

What does a more sustainable future for specialty coffee look like? Here are a few of my own thoughts. There are more.

Men and women would treat each other with equal respect, be able to live in decent housing, feed their families, provide an education for their children, take care of their family’s health care needs, have a voice in their own homes and their own communities, and all of this regardless of the price or production of coffee. If income from coffee were good, it would be a great year. If income from coffee were not so good, all of the above would still be true.

Impossible, you say? The coffee producers from San Gaspar Chajul in Guatemala are on a path toward that sustainable future right now. No, they are not there yet. Hunger is still all too commonplace. However, the goals are clear, the directions set, and the long-term commitments made.

The Coffee Trust partnered with Asociacion Chajulense in 2008 and together we took the first steps to accomplish these goals. Coffee Trust resources are modest. However, The Coffee Trust has focused 100% of its resources, capital and human, on sustainable development projects in San Gaspar Chajul and only in San Gaspar Chajul. Located in the western highlands of El Quiché, and home to the ancient Mayan Ixil people, San Gaspar Chajul is one of the most marginalized coffee producing regions in the world. The Ixil people were ravaged by Guatemala’s 36-year brutal war, and further damaged after the war by well intentioned, but ill-informed development organizations that brought give-away programs to the deeply devastated and impoverished region. Built upon years of simmering mistrust, without intent, these organizations created a culture of dependency and a sense of victimization out of a strong and resilient people. The common challenges coffee producers face throughout the world are many times more difficult to overcome in the Ixil region.

Knowing this, we took the first steps to help the Ixil people carve out a path toward eradicating poverty and building a sustainable future. If successful, we believe that others could learn from the experiences of the Ixil people and take similar paths in their own hometowns.

If it can be accomplished in the Ixil region, it can be accomplished anywhere.

Projects focus on education, food sovereignty, health, diversified incomes, and roya recovery. At the outset, The Coffee Trust bore the lion’s share of responsibility. However, over 7 years much of that responsibility has been transferred to our local partners.

The Coffee Trust’s most successful partner is Chajulense de Mujeres, the women’s savings and micro-credit project, which began with 20 women in 2008, and is now 1,200 strong and growing. It has become 100% financially sustainable on their own capital fund generated from their own savings. It has arranged to secure over $500,000 of capital for future expansion. It is responsible for the development of the women’s weaving cooperative and it is slowly becoming responsible for The Food Sovereignty Project. The Coffee Trust continues to provide training in financial management and organizational development so the women can strengthen their skills. Chajulense de Mujeres has become a local, indigenous- run, self-funded financial institution for the poor while at the same time managing the women’s weaving and soon The Coffee Trust’s food sovereignty projects.

The Coffee Trust has begun shifting responsibility for the Roya Recovery Project to local partner Asociacion Chajulense, the fair trade, organic coffee association in the region. The project uses organic, effective microorganisms (probiotics for plants) to defend the plants against the fungus along with many layers of soil replenishment to enrich the soil, which improves coffee quality and production. The project is fundamentally rooted in the peer-to-peer, shared learning principles of Campesino a Campesino in which farmers learn from their trusted friends and neighbors. Asociacion Chajulense will recover more than its lost production, more than its lost income, and have the skills to defend against other blights and natural disasters that will come its way in the future. 

The Coffee Trust Food Sovereignty and Health Project, soon to be under the management of Chajulense de Mujeres, promotes family gardens, efficient stoves and water filters, and has recently implemented a revolutionary chicken-raising system that will provide an abundance of protein from eggs and chickens and enough extras to sell for added income.

Scholarship recipients from The Coffee Trust Scholarship Program are technicians for Roya Recovery and coordinators for Food Sovereignty. 1,000 women from the Micro-Credit Project have asked to join the Food Sovereignty Project. 1,000 farmers are joining the Roya Recovery Project. The Coffee Trust-supported honey farmers have become their own independent, fair trade honey cooperative.

The Coffee Trust will remain a friend and consultant of the Ixil people. The vision of the future is to create a formal institute where farmers from all over Latin America and beyond will come to learn from the Ixil people, the poorest of the poor, how to pursue a responsible course toward a more sustainable future.

For more information, please visit www.thecoffeetrust.org

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