Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 1

San Marcos, Guatemala

Coffee farmers in Guatemala are facing many of the same challenges as those in Colombia. (See our update from Cauca, Colombia, here).

“The hardest is to plan, not knowing what is coming down the road,” Carlos Reynoso, general manager of Manos Campesinas, said in a May 29th interview.

Manos Campesinas and Apecaform

Carlos manages Manos Campesinas, a secondary-level cooperative that serves eight farmer-owned cooperatives across Guatemala. Manos helps those cooperatives sell and export their coffee, in addition to offering technical and farming support throughout the year.

We have worked with Carlos for nearly 20 years, sourcing coffee from Apecaform, a Manos member-cooperative, that is owned by 265 small-scale organic farmers.

Normally in the spring and early summer, Carlos’s team collects harvests from Apecaform and seven other cooperatives and prepares it to load on large shipping containers to be exported around the world.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 1 1
Carlos Reynoso leads Manos Camepesinas, a secondary-level cooperative that helps Guatemala-based farmer cooperatives like APECAFORM grow and export fair trade, organic coffee.

Their work includes everything from processing coffee- removing the pergamino or the the final layer of skin on the coffee seed; to managing quality control- sorting the collected coffee and cupping, or taste-testing, it for quality; to preparing it for export- ensuring the coffee gets bagged, documented and shipped to its intended buyer.

Based in the western highlands of Guatemala in a town called Quetzaltenango, the Manos team travels extensively during this time.

They regularly visit rural coffee communities like the ones Apecaform represents, several mountainous outposts north of Quetzaltenango near the border with Chiapas, Mexico. And they also travel the 125 miles southeast to Guatemala City.

Government-imposed Travel Restrictions

On March 21, the Guatemalan government issued a global travel ban and national curfew. It also began restricting internal travel around that time.

The timing was a challenge for Manos. Members had largely finished harvesting coffee, but it was not yet ready to be exported.

“We’d be processing about 30 percent of our total sales, and it’s critical that we move it,” Carlos said. Ultimately, key members of his team were able to get special, government-issued passes to visit processing facilities across the country.

And processing facilities could operate at night. Workers would come in before a nightly curfew and work until it was lifted the next morning. This allowed fewer people to come in contact with one another at any given time.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 1 2
Mountain roads in San Marcos, Guatemala, the area where APECAFORM farmers produce fair trade, organic coffee.

Communities Self-Regulating

Like in Colombia, small-scale coffee farmers in Guatemala are often indigenous people who live remotely and have learned to create their own social-service-and-support networks locally.

One example Carlos recounted was self-imposed quarantines at the community-level. Because there is such limited access to healthcare in rural Guatemala, many communities require someone to quarantine before they are allowed to re-enter the community.

Carlos explained that a mandatory quarantine of 2-4 weeks would be required when Mano’s lead cupper returned to his community after a stint of working in Guatemala City.

Enough Money for Food?

One upside to the coronavirus timing is that the farmers selling to Manos Campesinas had recently been paid for their harvests. This means that in the short-term they were less vulnerable than other Guatemalans to food shortages, Carlos explained.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 1 3

Nearly 60 percent of Guatemalans earn money in the “informal sector” he said, explaining that the money that they earn in a day is often used to feed them that same day. As travel restrictions and lockdowns continue, many people across Guatemala might not be able to eat at all.

“The result of not eating might be more dangerous than getting the virus,” Carlos said.

He anticipated that Manos members would have enough food to last through July or August. Then, Manos would likely need to distribute food to its members, like those 265 farmers at Apecaform.

In May, Cooperative Coffees awarded Manos Campesinas a $10,000 Covid-Relief grant to help pay for food donations to farmers. Coffee sales from Cafe Campesino and other Cooperative Coffees co-owners helped finance the grant. It was one of 20 Covid-Relief grants totaling $128,000 that is earmarked for Cooperative Coffees’ producer partners around the world.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 1 4
APECAFORM farmers welcomed our visiting delegation in 2011.

Solidarity Saves Lives

Despite the uncertainty, Carlos remains hopeful.

“I think one of the things that is crystal clear is everyone’s sense of vulnerability. It’s changed everyone’s priorities, because everyone can get sick,” he said, underscoring the sense of unity that uncertainty can create among people.

“It has reminded us that ‘united we can overcome,’” he said recounting the number of challenges coffee farmers have faced over the years including crop pests, natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.

“We need to work as intelligently as possible with the resources we have to come up with solutions,” he said.

“We have to communicate to our team that we have to stay strong. Sometimes we are the only support organization many of these communities have. Some of them don’t have government support, so we have to stay strong.”

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 1 5
Manos Campesinas headquarters during a November 2019 visit to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Apecaform Coffee

The Apecaform cooperative is one of two Guatemalan cooperatives we source from to sell our Guatemala Full City Roast throughout the year. Check the Guatemala Full City product description to learn whether we have their coffee in-stock.

Learn more about the history of Apecaform on their trading partner page.

June 25, 2020
BY Café Campesino
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