Guatemala’s Manos Campesinas farmer cooperative is one of our oldest and closest trading partners. Made up of 13 smaller coffee farmer co-ops across the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Sololá and Chimaltenango, Manos represents over 1,200 farming families. They work to maximize benefits to their members by offering the highest return and best prices and by investing most of their profits into technical support for their members in order to help them increase yields and quality. They have a small core of administrative staff as well as strong technical department that works closely with farmers in the fields. Manos’s Miguel Mateo Sebastian– an old friend and past visitor to Americus— was kind enough to take the time for a few interview questions for the Café Campesino blog.
Café Campesino: What is your current role at Manos Campesinas?
Miguel Mateo: I’ve been Commercial Manager of the co-op since 2006.
CC: How are things going this year? How was the harvest?
MM: The harvest was good, the volume of coffee that we expected was what came in, we even had a little excess coffee in some of the co-ops. We needed to ask our trading partners in the industry to buy a little more coffee, fortunately some of them agreed and we were able to sell the entire harvest. The producers have been renovating their coffee fields to improve quality even more and that is a really good thing for them to do. It is also good for those of us who are used to having a very good cup of coffee.
CC: How is the situation with COVID in the Manos communities?
MM: In Guatemala we have had in these past few months the highest incidences of COVID we have seen, even higher than last year. Investments in the health care system were not a priority by the Guatemalan government, despite the availability of the budget to do it, so the fundamental problem was very weak execution. The public health services have practically collapsed at the moment, there are no longer enough spaces for the sick in the hospitals. In the communities we are already seeing complications because of the lack of an aggressive communication strategy about what the disease is and what it means. People in the communities have relaxed prevention measures and many have become ill. However, it is not possible to quantify since most of them do not reach the statistics of the public health ministry. In the communities many people use medicinal plants for COVID and in some cases combine it with traditional medicines used for a normal flu. Most often they do not get tested to determine if they have COVID. Despite the difficulties that COVID brings, producers have never stopped working. They continue trying to move forward with their economic activity– the social security system practically does not cover small coffee producers and they cannot stop working.
CC: What are some of the projects that Manos Campesinas farmers are involved in with the Co-op Coffees Impact Committee? (The Co-op Coffees Impact Committee helps provide funds and other support for sustainability projects funded by Co-op Coffees roasters including Café Campesino).
MM: A few years ago we had a small coffee seedling project and those plants are now in full production this harvest. in the case of last year (2020), Manos Campesinas received a fund of $10,000 from Cooperative Coffees. This money we combined with a fund of $65,000 that is part of the common fund of the Manos Campesinas organizations. These were distributed to all associates in cash foreseeing that, by then, they could use it in case they fell ill with COVID. We also distributed a kit to each family, which carried masks and alcohol gel to disinfect their hands when they have to leave their community.
CC: What is the vision of the future for Manos?
MM: Manos Campesinas’s vision for the year 2025 and it is the following: “To be the leading organization of small producers and producers of specialty and organic coffees in Guatemala due to our high productivity, efficient service, transparency, and equitable social impact” The people associated with Manos Campesinas produce coffee on an average of one hectare land, they are practically micro-producers and we need to continue transferring technology to them so that they are more efficient in productivity, as well as in the management of coffee quality. Every year we are working to perfect our processes. We have also assumed inclusion as a principle in the organization. We are working so that services reach women, men, youth and also children. We have coffee plots managed by youth, so that they can have that experience. In essence, we want to build strong producer organizations in the communities and provide farm families with the best opportunities.
CC: Final crucial question– What is your favorite coffee?
MM: My favorite coffee is the one I drink in the morning! Because it prepares me for an exciting day and, of course, it’s organic coffee lovingly produced by small-scale farmers!
Manos Campesinas is an inspirational organization and we are proud to have them as friends and partners. Their coffee is currently featured in our Cold Brew as well as in several blends including Sweet Auburn and Mad Poet. Check them out and taste the hard work and love Miguel Mateo and his colleagues put into their coffee.