Prosperity through diversity?

Out of the 3 adaptation strategies that we are exploring in Guatemala, Income Diversification seems to be the most interesting, but also the most challenging. Although there exists others strategies to increase coffee yield (i.e. solar dryers and water collection systems), perhaps the most sustainable income generating method for coffee producers is actually moving away from coffee dependence to growing other agricultural products. In a region where land is fertile and agricultural skills abundant, diversifying what one grows can be an extremely effective way not only for climate change resiliency but also livelihood.

Fresh produce, for example, is grown and sold in many local markets here. From mangoes, to lettuce, to potatoes, to tomatoes, great soil and growing conditions allow many fruit to be cultivated. One coffee farmer we talked to dedicated more than half his parcel to avocado trees, which he sells to a market in another town to subsidize his income. Another farmer we visited grew peaches on his land that he also sells. Although produce is easy enough to grow, a downside is its perishability, which affects the amounts of markets that it can be sold, whether local, domestic, or international. One story we heard was that a co-op organized a shipment of french beans to be sold to Guatemala City, but because of the mountaineous passages up and down through different temperatures, by the time it the truck arrived to the capital, the product spoiled and the shipment was sent back.

Harvesting peaches to sell at the market.

Harvesting peaches to sell at the market.

Peaches on the mountainside.

Peaches on the mountainside.

Avocados too!

Avocados too!

Other non-perishable products might have more success. Afterall, that is partly why growing coffee to export is feasible. Honey has been talked about before, but people need the proper materials and training to cultivate and sell this. CODECH currently is experimenting with a pilot project with honey with little profits thus far. Medicinal and traditional herbs are another possibility, but has not been commericialized or marketed enough to create a demand. Dried goods such as beans and corn are already being produced but on a small scale and less profitable. Other dried foods such as dried mango, bananas or other fruit could generate sizeable income, but training and processing tools/warehouse is lacking as well.

Different products that FECCEG (a coffee co-op near Lake Atitlan) commercializes to diversify income, including honey, brown sugar, and chia seeds.  All products are sold locally, except the honey which is also exported internationally.

Different products that FECCEG (a coffee co-op near Lake Atitlan) commercializes to diversify income, including honey, brown sugar, and chia seeds. All products are sold locally, except the honey which is also exported internationally.

Bananas 2 Go: Sun-dried bananas that are produced at Santa Elena coffee farm near Quetzaltenango.  Mostly sold regionally to cafes and specialty stores.

Bananas 2 Go: Sun-dried bananas that are produced at Santa Elena coffee farm near Quetzaltenango. Mostly sold regionally to cafes and specialty stores.

Income diversification through growing and sellling other products is a welcomed idea that all co-op members and leaders we talked to would want to implement. The biggest barrier, however, is…..a market. Sure, the right training and materials could be given, and the farmers are more than willing enough to try something that will generate income, but if there doesn’t exist a market, or people to buy the product, what is the point? Being in the mountains is hard enough logistically to sell products, but so are the thousands of small scale farmers that can only produce so much individually from thier land. So can prosperity through diversity exist? We think so, but it will take a great idea, materials, training, collective organizing, and production facilities/storage warehouses. But most importantly, it will take a market that will warrant the costs of these production and start up fees, especially if transporting products to non-local markets or even internationally is the goal. So what could work?

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