Article: Challenges at Santa Anita

Written by Cafe Campesino on Apr 1, 2007 in Article, NEWSLETTER |

Bearhugging a ceiba tree, estimated to be 500 years old

This is the time of year when the members of Cooperative Coffees head out to visit with producer partners throughout Latin America. These are busy months throughout the region that offer a unique opportunity for us to see how our producer partners prepare their coffee for export and to discuss face to face with them our collaboration in the process. For the last three weeks, Bill Harris, founder and co-owner of Café Campesino, has been traveling in Guatemala to meet with our friends at Santa Anita and four other coops with whom Cooperative Coffees works. The following trip report submitted by Bill captures the substance of what we and our producer partners discuss during our visits. It also sheds light on the many issues that we and our producer partners face on an ongoing basis.

As we turned off the cobblestone road into the familiar communal grounds, I tried to remember just how many times I had visited this idyllic cooperative. Is it the beautiful land — or the spirit of the members — or the proximity to Quetzaltenango? Not sure exactly why I end up here so often, but I suspect that I have visited this cooperative more than any other.

Popularly called “Santa Anita” or “Maya Civil,” La Asociacion Civil Maya de Productores de Santa Anita, is an organic coffee and banana producer cooperative located on Guatemala’s Pacific slope between Quetzaltenango and Coatepeque at an altitude of approximately 3,500 meters. The association at Santa Anita is made up of 32 families of ex-combatants from the 36 year Guatemala civil war. With the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 the association was able to purchase an abandoned plantation in February of 1998. Approximately 65% of the 130-acre holding is in coffee and banana production — the remaining acres are either too steep for any type of cultivation or have been left purposely in a natural state to conserve the existing ecology.

Beautiful new mural covering the side of Santa Anita's guest house by our friends at Just Coffee in Madison, WI

With nine years of experience on the land, one would hope that the community and farm would be thriving. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You may remember our campaign last fall to raise money for Santa Anita. Cafe Campesino, along with other members of Cooperative Coffees, raised almost $10,000 in donations to help the families at Santa Anita bring in their harvest. We knew as we raised this money that they were experiencing their second year of extremely disappointing harvest volume. So I was hopeful that my visit with Santa Anita would shed light on their future harvest expectations and, ideally, provide me with insights into their viability as a community that depends primarily on coffee for their income. We knew from past visits by others and communications with Santa Anita that the tough times were not past; I hoped though, as we entered the community, that we would see signs of promise amongst the otherwise disappointing harvest news.

After a hearty round of hugs and handshakes, we were invited by the new president, Juan Carreto Mendez, to sit down with the officers of the board for a quick update and to plan the agenda for the two day visit. Attending were Rigoberto, who visited Cafe Campesino last October and originally asked us to devise a special fundraising campaign; and Domingo, Valerio, Rogelio and Andrea. Also attending was Michael Skillicorn, a Dean’s Beans Social Change Intern who is living on the farm for 4 months and assisting with daily work, teaching English and pitching in whenever and wherever he can. The conversation shifted almost immediately from tame agenda issues to a review of their continued precarious financial situation. A couple of themes emerged during this meeting and were reinforced during the next two days: 1) they are not able to make the investments in their land and plants that they know are needed because they have to feed their families, creating a classic downward spiral that potentially results in even poorer harvest next year; 2) other potential money-making projects exist but their potential isn’t being realized and; 3) the big change last year from communal farming to a division of the land into individual plots is working, but will soon result in some families being much more financially secure than others. All in all, the news simply wasn’t good…so we decided to do what everyone does to lift the spirits — eat dinner!

The coffee trees were just starting to flower during our visit

The following morning, we walked around the farm looking in particular for signs that the plant renovations that they did just prior to Hurricane Stan might finally begin to produce results. After renovation (or trimming) it typically takes a coffee tree two years to return to full production. Madlyn Madrid, an agro-engineer from Colombia, pointed out a number of opportunities for improvement concerning maintenance of their coffee trees. Then we discovered a problem – or “opportunity” as we like to say at Cafe Campesino – that may explain a large portion of their low production. The trees, it seems, are receiving very little compost. And the new division of the land into individual tracks for each farmer resulted widely varying compost application techniques. In general, each coffee plant should receive at least 1.5 pounds of compost each year and some farmers apply as much as 4 pounds per plant. With about 80 acres of coffee being cultivated at Santa Anita, this would mean at least 180,000 pounds of compost are needed in order to properly feed the plants. We could find no signs of this kind of volume of compost being produced — and we had already been told that they didn’t have the funds to purchase compost when it is needed. Everyone on the tour of the farm agreed that more compost is needed and that this should be approached as an opportunity.

Visits with the "on-farm" schools are always a highlight

Our path back into the village took us right by the three school buildings where we could hear children laughing and teachers teaching. We asked if we could barge into the classrooms and the teachers enthusiastically responded with an invitation for us to tell the students where we were from and why we were visiting Santa Anita. As the students asked us questions about Georgia and Colombia, I was reminded that while the coffee production is challenging at Santa Anita — this was really what our work is all about. These children were living in a stable situation that allowed them to attend class each day — a right that we take for granted but one that was never given to their parents. In fact, much of daily life on the farm at Santa Anita seems to revolve around these children and their schools. About half of the students are children of the farmers, and the other half walk to school each day from neighboring communities. What a great way to end our tour of the farm!

Later in the afternoon a community meeting was held and most families were represented. We learned that most support the new land policy that assigns responsibility for about 4 acres of land to each family. Most importantly, we heard confirmations from everyone that the renovation of the trees and the new coffee plantings are expected to yield much more coffee next year. The lack of compost in many sections of the farm was discussed, along with the concept of a community garden. A young woman at the meeting reminded us that they are still learning how to run a farm and that some of the members of the community are much better at working the land than others. After dinner, Michael, Valerio and another gentleman broke out the guitars and entertained — a lovely way to end the evening.

In spite of the enormous amount of work that this community has invested in recovering and renovating what was an abandoned plantation, they continue to face significant challenges. They are still learning how to manage their farm and their business affairs in a democratic fashion that honors their commitment to one another but also gets the work done. They continue to need and seek support from outside sources, especially as they suffer through one or two more years of low coffee production while waiting for their new and renovated trees to begin full production. They continue to also have one of the most compelling post-civil war stories of hope and survival. Each time we visit we learn a little more about the difficulties that they faced while living for over a decade “in the mountains.”

Café Campesino will continue to support Santa Anita through the donation of materials, time and funding. If you would like to help, please consider a gift to our Power of 100 Fund. Donations will be used to purchase materials for the farm and their pharmacy. Also, if you would like to volunteer for at least one month and have specific skills in the area of community organizing, business plan development, or organic gardening and you speak Spanish, please contact us for additional information concerning self-sponsored volunteer opportunities at Santa Anita.

Link to original article

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Copyright © 2018 Fair Trade Wire All rights reserved. Theme by Laptop Geek.
Template customization, site implimentation and design by Lowthian Design Works