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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bill Harris, seen here in the yellow hat, leads a Cafe Campesino visit to Chajul in 2013.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

view of mountainside from porch in colombia

In the United States, our supply chains, health care systems, public institutions and economy have all been put to the test by coronavirus.

But how has life changed for coffee farmers? So many coffee producers live with little-to-no access to social services or emergency government support during normal times. Has this pandemic exacerbated those vulnerabilities?

In a series of blog posts, we will look at how life has been impacted for our producer partners around the world. First, we begin with the Fondo Paez cooperative located in Cauca, Colombia.

Cauca, Colombia: Fondo Paez

Fondo Paez Background

Cauca is situated in the southwestern highlands of Colombia, along the Cordillera Central mountain chain.  It’s a remote area of rolling green mountains where ancestors of Fondo Paez farmers date back thousands of years. 

The farmers are Nasa, a determined, community-minded indigenous group that represents about 200,000 people in Colombia.  The Fondo Paez cooperative is co-owned and operated by some 370 small-scale Nasa farmers.

you man smiles for camera with verdant mountains behind him and a gray horse in the distance.
Luis Eduardo Dagua Rivera, a member of Fondo Paez’s cupping team, is pictured near Fondo Paez’s headquarters in 2017.

When Nasa farmers came together in 1992 to form Fondo Paez, they were looking to preserve the cultural and agricultural traditions of their ancestors.

Today, they produce organic, specialty-grade Arabica coffee that we roast as a Medium Roast Colombian coffee. It is some of the highest-quality coffee we purchase.

Coronavirus arrives during Cauca’s Harvest Season

The first cases of coronavirus were reported in Colombia in early March. By March 17, the country had restricted entry to foreigners and by March 20, Colombia was under a nationwide quarantine.

March thru July is typically harvest season for coffee farmers in Cauca, so coronovirus reached Colombia just as harvest was beginning.

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Ripe coffee cherry ready to harvest. Photo by Scott Umstattd.

Logistics Restricted in Fondo Paez Communities

Not long after Colombia instituted a nationwide quarantine, a Nasa volunteer guard set up checkpoints between local communities to reduce and monitor travel. 

Fondo Paez staff travelling to visit farmers must pass through these checkpoints and undergo a regimen of disinfection that involves the application of smoke and medicinal plants.

“Covid provoked a fair amount of uncertainty and fear in these communities and a lot of indigenous communities have had to act very strictly,” Yuri Pilliume, outgoing president of Fondo Paez, explained in a June 12 interview facilitated by our importer, Cooperative Coffees.

“They’ve implemented a pretty rigorous lock-down, shutting down transportation from rural communities to the big cities,” she said.

As of that interview, no cases had been reported in Fondo Paez communites. However, just a 45-minute drive away two coronavirus cases had been confirmed in Santander de Quilichao, the closest town to Fondo Paez farmers.

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Traveling between Nasa communities. Taken by Scott Umstattd in 2010.

Travel Restrictions Force Innovation

Travel restrictions have forced Fondo Paez to change how they receive coffee. 

During a normal harvest season, producers would take their freshly picked, washed and dried coffee to Fondo Paez’s central warehouse in La Placa to prepare it for export. 

Now farmers are bagging and preparing their coffees at home.  And soon, they will be able to drop their coffee at one of several remote warehouses where Fondo Paez is planning to rent space in the coming weeks.  The benefit to farmers is that they won’t have to travel too far from home to deliver their coffee, but the operational costs of the cooperative will increase, Yuri explained.

Lack of access to cities means farmers are also missing tools and other household items they might otherwise purchase in Santander.  To help meet those needs, Fondo Paez is entering a contract with a local distributor to open a small store on the mountain.

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Since Nasa communities implemented travel restrictions, Fondo Paez farmers can no longer take their coffee harvests to Fondo Paez’s central processing warehouse like they did here in 2010.

Long-term Planning Stalled

Like here in the U.S., long-term planning is a moving target for Fondo Paez.  

With travel restrictions nationwide, it’s impossible for the cooperative to estimate when their coffee will be ready for export.

By June, Fondo Paez would normally have collected about 80,000 pounds, or two containers of coffee from local producers. But this year, they only have a fraction of that.

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The mountains of Cauca, Colombia.

Plus, moving coffee beyond the Nasa communities poses a risk. Cooperative leaders worry that they might bring the virus back to these remote villages that have so far been spared of infections. With an aging population and limited access to medical care, the consequences of an outbreak could be grim. 

The neighboring departments (or states) to the immediate east and west of Cauca have some of the highest per capita cases of coronavirus in all of Colombia. Traveling outside of their communities and beyond the Cauca Department seems risky. 

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Luis Eduardo Dagua Rivera is evaluating the aroma of Fondo Paez coffee in the Fondo Paez cupping lab in 2017.

Bright Spots

Children have Returned Home

Despite an uncertain future and fear of the virus, there have been some bright spots during the pandemic, Yuri said.  

Most notably, young-adult children have returned home from the cities.  As Colombian cities started implementing lock downs, many young people moved back to their childhood homes. 

Now, they are helping their parents harvest coffee, and serving as mentors to younger children, she explained. Local leaders are even trying to convince the young people to stay in the region after the pandemic ends and help develop it for the future.

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Cafe Campesino CEO Tripp Pomeroy and Fondo Paez President Yuri Pilliume pose for a picture in the Atlanta airport during a 2018 visit.

Connecting with Coffee Buyers is Critical

Connecting with buyers and learning that there is still a demand for Fondo Paez coffee is also promising, Yuri said. 

“We need to be able to demonstrate to members that the effort they are currently making is worth it in the long run,” she said.  

Plus, communicating helps strengthen the relationship.

“We have been hearing about what’s happening in the U.S. and Europe, but conversations like this are helpful to get more real-life detail,” she said. “We think of our trading partners as family, so we want to hear how they are doing.”

Coffee Price Transparency Pledge with a coffee bean at the center

In solidarity with coffee producers, our customers, and ethical coffee companies around the world, we are making a commitment to be fully transparent in our coffee buying.

What does the Transparency Pledge Mean for Cafe Campesino?

For years, we have posted online the prices we pay farmer cooperatives. But today we are making a commitment to go deeper. In accordance with The Transparency Pledge, we will make available not just our Free on Board (FOB) Price for green coffees, but also the quality scores for our coffees, the volume of coffee we purchase from each co-op, and the length of time we’ve purchased from each producer group.

Over the next month, we will make this information available for every coffee we purchase. In the meantime, we invite you to visit our Current Coffee Lots page and click on each lot number to see our coffee contracts and FOB pricing for all of the coffees we are currently roasting.

Why Coffee Price Transparency is Important

We believe that price transparency is the first step in getting coffee producers more money. The coffee industry does not have an answer to the pricing crisis that has plagued coffee farmers for years- but desperately over the past few months.. Currently, the C market sets the worldwide benchmark for green specialty coffee pricing. That price affects how farmers get paid, but it never reflects their true costs of production. As a result, thousands of farmers around the world are being forced out of coffee production, sometimes producing other crops. Some are leaving their homes entirely- risking their lives to find a more sustainable income. To stop this trend, and make coffee truly sustainable, farmers must earn more money.

Solidarity in a Common Code of Transparency

Price transparency means very little when it is given out of context or simply used as a marketing tool. Today we join fellow roasters and importers around the world to create a common code for price transparency. Each of us is committed to making the following available for at least 1 coffee we sell:

  • Making Transparency Data Publicly Available and Easily Accessible
  • Stating the Producer/Producer Organization the Coffee was Purchased From
  • Stating the FOB Price Paid for the Coffee
  • Indicating the Quality of the Coffee
  • Stating the Volume of that Coffee Purchased
  • Stating the Length of the Relationship between the Producer and the Buyer
  • Stating the Percentage for Transparent Coffees in Relation to the Total Volume of Coffee Sold in a Stated Year

Who is taking the Pledge?

By taking the Transparency Pledge, we are standing alongside: TraidCraft of the United Kingdom; Cooperative Coffees of North America; Transcend Coffee + Roastery of Canada; Coffee Collective of Denmark; Flying Roasters of Germany; QuijoteKaffee of Germany; Cross Coffee of Germany; Sweetwater Organic Coffee of Florida, USA; Seven Seeds Coffee of Australia; Onyx Coffee Lab of Oklahoma, USA; Tim Wendelboe of Norway; Junior’s Roasted Coffee of Oregon, USA and Counter Culture Coffee of North Carolina, USA.

We salute their willingness to collaborate and work to create a better specialty coffee industry.

We invite other coffee companies around the world to join us. Learn more or sign-up at www.transparency.coffee

Biodynamic preparation the COMSA coffee farmers call Minerals of the Mountain

In Honduras, coffee farmers are so serious about organics that they’ve got a biospheric buffer zone around their community with signs reading something like No chemicals come in here! Members of COMSA coffee trading company are truly alchemizing their native soil in ways that are the envy of farmers in other nations.

Mr. Saleh a village-level collector with the Tamas Mumanang village that produces Permata Gayo coffee.

The farmers of Permata Gayo were ready to produce their highest-quality coffee ever.  By November, the bright white coffee flowers had transformed into budding green fruits, and the limbs of their coffee trees were swollen with promise.  A new processing facility was ready to receive ripe, red cherries that would turn into export-grade green coffee.

Then the rains came.  And they stayed longer than normal.   The sun that was needed to ripen coffee cherries and bring sweetness to the seed inside, was scarce this season.

As a result, Permata Gayo is anticipating a 25-30 percent drop in yield from last year’s coffee harvest.  But they are the lucky ones, according to Florent Gout, a green coffee buyer with Cooperative Coffees. “From an island perspective, they say that the loss is about 50 percent,” Florent said of the coffee harvest in Sumatra, Indonesia, one of coffee’s most popular origins.

Read more

Coop members at Permata Gayo survey coffee crops

Picture yourself in the Sumatran jungle mountains of North Indonesia, a crescendo of mountains shooting up from the sea where many locals’ lives depend on the coffee industry. This is one of the most beautifully lush regions of the world but fraught with historical mistreatment that lead to separatist fighting since 1976.