Maya Vinic has been a Cafe Campesino partner for over twenty years. Their progress and development in Mexico’s most southern state of Chiapas has been one filled with all manners of serious challenges. The cooperative was born in the aftermath of the Acteal Massacre– an attack on farmer families and others in the small community that resulted in the death of 47 unarmed people, mostly women and children. Their struggle for the recognition of their basic rights as human beings and indigenous people led them to form their own pacifist movement “Las Abejas” or, in English, “The Bees”. It also spawned their own coffee farming cooperative that has survived and prospered, even in the face of continued threats, harassment, and attacks by paramilitaries in neighboring communities.
In the winter of 2015/2016 the farmers of Maya Vinic came face to face with another challenge– climate change. While they had noted environmental changes over time, that season was a stark warning for what lay ahead. The changing weather and soil conditions all over Latin America led to a massive proliferation and spread of the coffee rust fungus, known in Spanish as “La Roya”. In a very short time the fungus contaminated and destroyed well over 60% of their coffee crops leaving them with very little coffee to sell locally or internationally. At that point they realized that if they did not find a way to counter this plant disease, the members and their families would be at risk of not being able to meet even their most basic needs.
Over the course of 2016 the cooperative explored ways to reconstitute their coffee fields. They hired two agronomists who worked with them to create a field school that would teach farmers from different communities how to recover their coffee crops. In 2017 Maya Vinic instituted training for 162 farmers at various field school workshops located in their communities. There, farmers learned how to improve their traps for the coffee boring beetle, improve their composting practices and develop basic mineral broths to enhance soil fertility and overall coffee plant health. While the conventional wisdom focused on replanting new hybrids that were more resistant to Roya, they chose to put equal focus on agroecological farming methods. While they did back that strategy with experimenting with different types of arabica coffee plants, they put a premium on deepening the health of the soil and the environment around the plants.
Because coffee plants take three years to mature and produce, they knew that they would have to work fast. Cooperative Coffees, the cooperatively-owned importing company which Cafe Campesino is a charter member, began supporting the field schools not long after they began through our Co-op Impact Committee. Over a three year period we have watched Maya Vinic farmers embrace agroecological methods for growing coffee and we have seen their dedication pay off. Their production has now largely recovered and they are now in a good position to resist not only another coffee rust outbreak, but any other plant blight that may come along due to changing rain, soil, and weather patterns.