¡No Tenga Pena!

We left the beautiful mountains of Huehuetenango a couple of weeks ago to continue our research interviewing key actors at the local, regional, and national levels in Guatemala. This meant saying farewell to all the wonderful friends we have met through CODECH. Thank you especially to Don Francisco and Don Gaspar, who made it extremely easy for us to coordinate and conduct interviews, focus groups, and parcel visits with co-op leaders and producers. We couldn’t have asked for better people to work with. ¡Ya los extrañamos mucho!

Jared in the coffee field talking with an agronomist from Rainforest Alliance and a producer.

Jared in the coffee field talking with an agronomist from Rainforest Alliance and a producer.

We are in Quetzaltenango (or Xela as the locals call it) right now, but will go to Guatemala City next week to finish our key actor interviews. From regional governmental organizations, to various NGO’s, to other coffee co-ops, we have gathered quite a diverse range of perspectives and ideas regarding coffee, climate change, and our 3 recommendation strategies in particular.

Ariadne conducting a Key Actor Interview with Juan from ADIPY

Ariadne conducting a Co-op Leader Interview with Juan López from ADIPY

But as we wrap up our time in Guatemala, we would like to reflect on our time here and what we have learned thus far:

  • First and foremost, climate change is real. It has affected everywhere we have gone in Guatemala. For the producers at CODECH, water collection systems would be a very welcomed strategy, especially since water in certain mountainous villages is hard to come by during the summer months where the majority of coffee washing takes place. Although there is generally enough land to implement a water collection system, money for materials and training are critically needed to implement this strategy.
  • Solar dryers are another infrastructure strategy that producers are interested in and that CODECH is already exploring. Most producers agree that solar dryers should be managed by the individual base level associations, but can be communally shared. Leaders have already built 3 prototypes to test out the next harvest, but if deemed successful, more money and equipment will be needed to multiply this drying strategy throughout different farms.
  • Income diversification through other commercialized products is intriguing and important to everyone we talked to. The main problem is finding a market. Producers are more than willing to grow whatever it takes that they can sell, but finding customers is the biggest barrier we heard. Some producers and co-ops we talked to are subsidizing income through fresh produce or processed goods such as honey. CODECH is exploring how to commercialize honey, but other viable products, training, investment money, business savvy, and most importantly, a market, are needed to fully implement diversification strategies

Lastly, we want to recognize the amazing heart and resiliency we have seen in the Guatemalan producers we have met. They work so hard to tend their coffee parcels in the mountains, often hours away from where they live. They have to climb and tend their steep parcels, lugging heavy materials back and forth. They have to overcome environmental issues that are completely out of their control. They have to rely on whatever the international market price is for their income. They have to balance agricultural practices with family necessities. And ultimately at the end of the day, they have to toil the land to produce their own livelihood. But through all of this, the coffee producers we met were incredibly generous, positive, and friendly. After receiving so much love and hospitality from them and expressing our gratitude, we often would hear “No tenga pena,” loosely translated as no worries or “de nada”. Although there was a lot to be concerned about regarding coffee, climate change, and livelihood, they lived fully and joyfully through hard work, community ties, simple pleasures, and a spirit of resiliency. As we work on our research trying to solve major problems, we also hope to live life a little more like our friends in Guatemala – always resilient, but not allowing life’s worries affect our attitude or living as fully as possible ¡No tenga pena!

Jared with coffee compost and worms - feliz como un lumbriz!

Jared with coffee compost and worms – ¡Feliz como una lombriz!

2015-06-01 13.29.01

Ariadne hiking up the hills of Concepción Huista.

¡No tenga pena!

¡No tenga pena!

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?

Water, Water… everywhere?

As mentioned before, the idea of water collection systems is one of the 3 key strategies we are focusing on here with CODECH in Guatemala. After conducting many interviews with co-op leaders, and now focus groups and community asset mapping with co-op members, the importance of water continues to be highlighted, not only for coffee production, but also livelihood.

Ariadne conducting a focus group with coffee producers from one of CODECH's base-level associations, ADIPY.

Ariadne conducting a focus group with coffee producers from one of CODECH’s base-level associations, ADIPY.

Activity with a producer community, drawing community asset maps of different resources in their respective communities.

Activity with a producer community, drawing community asset maps of different resources in their respective communities.

Luckily, in the region where we are in, it usually rains plenty during the wet season, and there is also a water source piped in from a water deposit from the mountains. But some more remote regions aren’t as lucky, as water availability is often intermittent and unpredictable, especially with climate change affects taking place. Even in Concepcion Huista, where it rained nearly every day for the first 3 weeks we were here, has seen an unusual dry spell with the past week being completely free of rain.

The Rio Azul (Blue River), an important water source for many communities in the mountains.

The Rio Azul (Blue River), an important water source for many communities in the mountains.

For small scale coffee farmers, depending on constant rain to irrigate their crops can be a risky affair. Water is especially scarce during the dry season where most of the coffee washing and processing takes place. Balance these needs along with personal water usage, and no wonder a supply of reliable water throughout the year is stressed.

As we explore how a water collection system could work on an individual or association level, what hasn’t worked, and what resources are needed to implement a viable collection system, we were fortunate one day to visit one co-op member’s parcel of land and water collection method. Martin and his father built this ingenious water collection system after learning of the technique in Mexico and buying the materials (the large plastic tarps can only be bought by the border near Mexico). The 2 meter-deep concrete tank collects water that the tin roof funnels. This fresher water is used for personal use. For other agricultural uses, there are 2 more tanks more downhill that connect and collect more sedentary water from the first tank. With this method, Martin is able to collect the natural resources when available, while ensuring future supply for himself or his crops when the weather is dryer. Could this method be implementable on a larger scale or multiplied?

The water collection system built by one coffee producer here.

The water collection system built by one coffee producer here.

A 2 meter deep concrete tank holds the collected water.

A 2 meter deep concrete tank holds the collected water.

A metal roof and pipe collect the water that gets deposited in the concrete tank.

A metal roof and pipe collect the water that gets deposited in the concrete tank.

Martin explains the tank downhill that connects to the first tank.  This water is less fresh and is used for agricultural purposes.

Martin explains the tank downhill that connects to the first tank. This water is less fresh and is used for agricultural purposes.

 

 

And then there were 3…

2 weeks have gone by as quickly as the daily passing rainstorms here in Huehue. Maybe it’s the multiple cups of coffee in the morning, or the daily hike through the steep streets of Concepcion Huista (where CODECH is located), or the high altitude amongst clouds, but nonetheless, our blood has been pumping in the beautiful mountains as we’ve already conducted 12 interviews with both co-op leaders and co-op members (coffee producers), visited and talked with several producer communities, as well as walked through producer’s coffee farms and parcels.

Ariadne in the thick of a  coffee farm, on the side of a really steep mountain.

Ariadne in the thick of a coffee farm, on the side of a really steep mountain.

Interview with Don Gaspar and his wife Anita, both leaders at CODECH.

Interview with Don Gaspar and his wife Anita, both leaders at CODECH.

After the discussion of last year’s results with CODECH, we narrowed down the recommendations to 5.  But after more interviews with co-op leaders, we further narrowed them down to a total of 3 strategies that leaders and members were most interested in, specifically: 1) Water Collection System, 2) Solar Dryers, and 3) Income Diversification.

Water Collection Systems: Water is vital for a producer, especially in the summer seasons where it is more dry and when water is needed for coffee washing and processing. Some communities that were more tucked away in the mountains described how water-strapped they can be. One community explained how each producer is limited to the number of coffee plants they can cultivate due to limited water resources. Strangely enough, there is plenty of rain here, but collecting water for future use would be extremely helpful and useful for all the producers we interviewed.

Solar Dryers: Solar Dryers, a method of drying coffee beans quicker and better using an insulated, raised bed, has been used with other producers in other countries. The producers at CODECH, however, still use the traditional method of laying the beans flat on the ground. Recently though, we found out that there is another pilot project going on currently with CODECH and funded by another partner. Although 4 solar dryers are being constructed for next year’s harvest, co-op leaders and members are still intrigued by this idea and how to expand it.

Traditional way of drying coffee beans.  No weather protection and no air circulation underneath.

Traditional way of drying coffee beans. No weather protection and no air circulation underneath.

Solar Dryer that just got built and will be used for the next harvest!

Solar Dryer that just got built and will be used for the next harvest!

Interior view.

Interior view.

Income Diversification: Whether through selling honey, mangoes, avocados, or other products, generating money through another income stream was another strategy that gathered much interest amongst leaders and producers. In a region where there are food security issues but fertile land, diversifying a farm with other fruits and vegetables can also provide better resiliency to climate change through livelihood strengthening.

Using these 3 strategies as our focus, we look forward to interviewing more leaders and producers, conducting more focus groups with producer communities, and talking with key actors in the field. We hope to really hone in on these 3 strategies to see what specifically is needed to implement them, what barriers there are, current resources that could be used, and other thoughts on viability. Stay tuned for more as we continue moving forward with our research!

First Weekend in Beautiful Guatemala!

Yesterday, after a 6hr windy bus ride all uphill from Guatemala City to Huehuetenango, and another 3 hour car ride bumping up and down on dirt roads, we finally made it to the luscious coffee mountains and terrain of Concepcion Huista, the town where CODECH is located.

View of the amazing mountain sides near Concepcion Huista, where many coffee plants are grown.

View of the amazing mountain sides near Concepcion Huista, where many coffee plants are grown.

Once we got to CODECH, the director, Don Francisco, introduced us to the accountants and other people that worked there.  Luckily for us, we walked in while Marcelo was roasting and grinding some coffee beans, so we were able to smell some of the rich coffee fragrance, drink some fresh brew, and even take a little home!

Sign outside of CODECH - Coordinadora de Organaciones de Desarollo de Concepcion Huista

Sign outside of CODECH – Coordinadora de Organaciones de Desarollo de Concepcion Huista

Fresh brew!  Thanks Don Francisco!

Fresh brew! Thanks Don Francisco!

Goodie bag of fresh ground coffee, yes please!

Goodie bag of fresh ground coffee, yes please!

Today in the afternoon, CODECH had a scheduled meeting with its association/cooperative leaders.  So since everyone was gathered, we decided it was a perfect time to present to them the results from the first year team (CCC1.0).  We gave a short presentation in the beginning of the meeting going over last year’s research design, research questions, results, and the 16 recommendations developed for CODECH that might be the most appropriate for climate change adaptation strategies and livelihood resiliency.  These recommendations were separated into 6 different areas: Management & Compilation of Data, Agricultural Techniques, Training Practices, Strengthening of Cooperatives in the Marketplace, Infrastructure Tools, and Socioeconomic Opportunities.  After presenting last year’s results and explaining the 16 different recommendations, there was a lively conversation amongst leaders on what they thought would be the most useful and practical.  They decided they needed more time to talk with themselves and to think about all the recommendations before picking the most feasible 3-5 that will become the basis for our research this summer and themes for our future focus groups and interviews.  Needless to say, we are excited about what recommendations will be narrowed down as we continue our research here in the highlands of Huehuetenango for 6 weeks and in Guatemala City for a following 2 more weeks!

Presenting the results from last years team at CODECH.

Presenting the results from last years team at CODECH.

Handing out and discussing the 16 recommendations with the Cooperative Leaders at CODECH.

Handing out and discussing the 16 recommendations with the Cooperative Leaders at CODECH.

The handoff! – CCC 1.0 Team to CCC 2.0 Team

We’re back!!! Well, not last year’s amazing pioneers of Claire, Joanna, Saira, Brenda, Martin and Mike, but still coffee-loving, sustainability-driven Duke graduate students who will make up this year’s team!  INTRODUCING the CCC 2.0 Team…..(rawr rawr!)

The CCC 1.0 Team did awesome research and came up with some equally awesome findings. Yesterday, they gave their final report to Counter Culture Coffee, where the audience slurped it up like a nice cup of morning joe.  Sorry for the lame joke, but really, they did a fabulous job collecting their data, analyzing everything, and disseminating all their results out in a clear and cohesive way (while navigating through technological difficulties with the projector during the presentation).  After handing the stage to us, we, the 2.0 Team introduced ourselves and also introduced our summer research plans based off the findings from last year’s team.  Soon enough in a year, we will be back here with our results!

We are excited to continue this blog and share our journey with all you this summer!  Congratulations again to CCC 1.0 for a great year of research and thank you for passing the baton!

CCC1.0 sharing their research results with Counter Culture Coffee in Durham

CCC1.0 sharing their research results with Counter Culture Coffee in Durham