Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 2 1

Chajul, Guatemala

Last week, some 1,200 small-scale farmers in the remote highlands of Guatemala received a month’s worth of basic foodstuffs from Asociacion Chajulense, the cooperative they co-own and manage. The food supplies are meant to support farmers during the coronavirus pandemic, and it was funded, in part, by your coffee purchases.

Food Costs are Increasing

Throughout Guatemala, restrictions on travel and public gatherings have made food more scarce and expensive. After the first cases of coronavirus were reported in Guatemala in mid-March, the country has been on a lock-down that has included nightly curfews, bans on public gatherings and restrictions on nationwide travel.

These logistics restrictions combined with reduced hours at convenience stores and supermarkets have caused food prices across the country to rise.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 2 2
Romy Perez, right, presenting a food supplement to a member of Asociacion Chajulense. July 2020.

Food Support & Recent Harvest Payments

But the timing of harvest season and a vibrant supply chain relationship have so far helped support Chajul farmers during this pandemic.

All 1,200 farmers have recently been paid for their 2020 harvests, which collectively produced about 1.1 million pounds of green coffee, or about 28 containers, according to Romy Perez, director of sales for the cooperative.

And, despite restrictions on inter-departmental travel and gathering in large groups, the co-op will successfully export all of the coffee it had contracted to supply.

“We are finishing the exports now. We have about 6 more lots to ship,” said Romy, explaining that the coronavirus pandemic had put the co-op about a month-and-a-half behind schedule.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 2 3

Your Purchases Helped Fund Food Deliveries

Last week’s food deliveries of beans, rice, flour, noodles, sugar and other basic items will help support farmers as the pandemic progresses. The provisions are about a month’s worth of food, but producers know that this is a difficult time and to plan accordingly, Romy said.

Offering social and educational support to its members is an important role for many cooperatives. In addition to being an economic driver for a community, co-ops also often serve as social safety nets, because many national governments do not.

The cooperative- in nearly all of the communities we source from – is the social safety net and the economic driver for the local community.

In the case of the Chajul co-op, getting members access to food became an important initiative during Covid-19.

Purchasing and distributing 1,200 bags of food cost about $30,000, Romy said. The largest outside financial contribution for the project came from a Cooperative Coffees’ Covid Relief Grant that supplied $10,000 to the cooperative in May.

COVID Relief Grant was one of Several from Cooperative Coffees

The grant was one of several totaling almost $130,000 that Cooperative Coffees agreed to allocate to producer groups this spring, knowing that marginalized, indigenous people could be some of the hardest hit populations affected by Covid-19.

A green coffee importer, Cooperative Coffees is co-owned by Cafe Campesino and 22 other roasters across North America. It was able to fund the Covid Relief Grants and other similar initiatives, because each member-roaster contributes $0.03 per pound it purchases to a fund specifically designated for producer-led projects.

That means that every purchase you make from Cafe Campesino helps fund these types of producer-led initiatitves.

This week, Cooperative Coffees’ long-term commitment to producers was recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association, a world-wide network of specialty coffee businesses. After 20 years of sourcing exclusively fair trade, organic coffee from farmer-owned cooperatives, the importer was awarded the SCA’s Sustainability Award for its Business Model. Learn more here.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 2 4

Guatemala Lockdown

But strong supply chain relationships can only do so much. Contracting Covid-19 is still a serious concern for Chajul farmers.

Although no co-op member has yet to contract the virus (as of July 8), infections have been reported in the nearby towns of Cotzal and Nebaj, Romy said. Of the 1,200 farmers who work with Asociacion Chajulense, 33 live on farms near Cotzal, 432 live near Nebaj and 735 live near Chajul.

Nationwide, Guatemala reports 25,787 Covid-19 infections and 1,004 Covid-related deaths as of July 8. In a country of some 17 million people, that appears remarkably contained when you compare it the U.S. state of Georgia, which has 10 million people and some 93,707 infections and 2,850 deaths as of July 8.

Since the outbreak first appeared in Guatemala in mid-March, the government has taken strict measures to contain the virus.

Guatemalans have been under a nationwide curfew, prohibited from leaving their homes from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night. During the day, only drivers with licenses plates ending in even numbers are allowed to be on the roads on even dates, and those ending in odd numbers are permitted to drive on odd dates. Masks are required to be worn throughout the country. Anyone caught not wearing a mask can be fined up to 150,000 quetzales, or about $20,000 U.S. dollars.

The Chajul cooperative has been supplying us with fair trade, organic coffee (via Cooperative Coffees) every year since 2006. We visit the cooperative nearly every year. The Ixil Triangle, the area where Chajul is located, was one of the hardest hit areas during the Guatemalan Civil War, which officially ended in 1996. Learn more about the history of Asociacion Chajulense here. Purchase Chajul Coffee here.

Cooperative Coffees General Manager Ed Canty will receive the Sustainability Award on July 16 at the SCA’s (virtual) Re:Co symposium. He will be joined (virtually) by Bill Harris, co-founder of Cafe Campesino and founder of Cooperative Coffees.

Coronavirus in Guatemala: Part 2 5
Bill Harris, seen here in the yellow hat, leads a Cafe Campesino visit to Chajul in 2013.
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