Guatemala: Supporting the cultivation of organic coffee

Organic coffee growing – good for people, good for the environment

In the western highlands of Guatemala, the Development Service supports local farmers in agricultural communities to produce and sell coffee. Elvis Morales, an extension worker with the partner organisation 'Comité Campesino del Altiplano' (CCDA), reports on the progress achieved in the region between San Lucas Tolimán in the east and Santiago Atitlán in the south.

'Bit by bit, we have rehabilitated every inch of the coffee plantations over a period of a few months. Coffee from the Guatemalan highlands is a very sought-after commodity abroad', says Elvis Morales, a young Kakchiquel Maya who has a degree in education. The partner organisation CCDA grows coffee in this region. Organic cultivation methods and fair trade are particularly important to the farmers' committee. Any profit from producing coffee is used to support a wide range of social projects in the communities, from arranging doctors' visits, constructing housing, to providing grants for pupils. 'Our work is socially responsible and climate-friendly', says Elvis Morales proudly.

Convincing people to change

The social obligations are continually increasing, harvest after harvest. CCDA's activities are constantly expanding. At the green coffee processing plant, a drying facility is being constructed with Canadian funding, along with a warehouse – which will later be used as a training centre for farmers – and huts for tourists and traditional weavers. The farmers' committee has set the bar high.

Elvis Morales and his colleagues provide extension services above all to small farmers who organise themselves within the CCDA. The use of biofertilisers and biopesticides is an important issue in this context. Although organic products are a lot cheaper, many small farmers continue to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, some of which have been banned in Europe for many years.

'A farmer growing corn on a 400m2 plot of land must use chemical fertilisers three times, at a cost of 840 quetzales (about EUR 80),' explains Morales. 'He may ultimately not make enough money to secure a return on this investment.' The problem, he believes, is that a lot of the farmers are set in their ways. Using organic products is less convenient as it means more work. Organic farming may gain some traction as the price of chemical products continues to increase. 'The ingredients used to make organic fertiliser cost just 146 quetzales (about EUR 14). Every day we try to convince people to change over to organic products by explaining how to produce and use them', explains Elvis Morales.

With the support of the Development Service, the CCDA's extension services include workshops for farmers and community representatives on topics such as climate change and organic farming. Here, participants learn how climate change impacts on agriculture and why it makes sense to use organic fertilisers and pesticides.

As one of the main sources of climate change, industrialised countries bear responsibility to a large degree and have a particular duty to drive climate change. 'This does not mean, however, that other countries shouldn't step up to the mark', stresses workshop participant Jonathan Castro, an agronomist. In addition to the long-term gains, organic production methods also offer farmers many short-term benefits such as less dependency on external sources and more money in their pocket. Ultimately, this not only helps farmers, it also reduces CO2 emissions thanks to lower transportation costs and fewer chemical fertilisers.

Additional information