Guatemala: Saving biodiversity, one cup of coffee at a time

The Eloy family
Eloy Donis Samayoa,Vidal and Alexander -- three generations of coffee makers in Guatemala. (Photo: UNDP Guatemala)

In 1982, Eloy Donis Samayoa began growing coffee with a group of Jesuits in Chapa, Nueva Santa Rosa, in the southeast of the country.

“I planted my first coffee tree 32 years ago with no technology and not much knowledge of the process. At the time, all I had was a small plot of land I inherited from my father,” Eloy said.  

Highlights

  • A UNDP-supported project carried out by the Rainforest Alliance and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has helped transform coffee production in Guatemala by promoting demand for certified sustainable coffee.
  • The project was implemented from 2006 to 2014 and, in cooperation with Nespresso, Nescafé, Modelez, Tchibo and Nestlé, it set a sustainable coffee agenda for the market.
  • The private sector invested about $110 million in sustainable coffee that directly benefitted coffee producers.
  • Coffee is the second-largest traded commodity in the world after oil, and there are 90,000 coffee producers in Guatemala

Vidal, his eldest son, migrated to the capital city in his twenties, sending back earnings that were invested in growing coffee and helping his siblings. In 1988, he moved back home to work with his father. Alexander, Vidal’s son, joined his father and grandfather in the business, and the three of them have been working together for eight years.  

In 2003, they joined a cooperative that was part of a UNDP project carried out by the Rainforest Alliance and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project, Biodiversity Conservation in Coffee, has helped transform production by promoting demand for certified sustainable coffee from six countries of Latin America, including Guatemala.   

“For over a decade we have been contributing to and benefitting from organized work,” Vidal said of the cooperative, Nuevo Sendero.  “The cooperative has played a major role in improving our town.” 

Nuevo Sendero has been assisting 4,000 small coffee producers with better practices and innovation, and has helped them meet various challenges over the years, including through access to loans repaid after the harvest.  

Nuevo Sendero is linked to a second-level cooperative that exports coffee from 148 cooperatives and approximately 20,000 small producers from all over the country. There are 90,000 coffee producers in Guatemala. 

“We have adopted better procedures,” explained Alexander, “and today we are searching for ways to confront coffee rust, a disease that has dealt a serious blow to our crops over the past couple of years.” 

Coffee certification has been a milestone for the family business. 

“The key factor was not so much overcoming administrative barriers, but rather changing our own habits,” said Alexander. “We were used to doing everything by hand, without the strict procedures required to obtain the certification.”  

The project has provided technical assistance, training and incentives for producers to adopt more responsible and sustainable practices that help conserve biodiversity on coffee-producing lands.  

“The idea behind promoting coffee certification is to connect global supply of, and demand for, sustainable coffee,” explained Flor Bolaños, UNDP’s Programme Officer for the Environment. “UNDP has a strong comparative advantage through its Green Commodity Programme, whose goal is precisely to connect stakeholders -- governments, farmers and global markets -- to strengthen the country’s capacity for scaling up sustainable production.”

Today the Donis family’s farm covers 15 hectares of certified coffee plantations in the Mesoamerican Corridor, a hotspot whose biodiversity is threatened. Not only has certification contributed to protect the flora and fauna of coffee plantations, but its benefits extend to an area 7 to 10 times the size of the farm itself.    

The project was implemented from 2006 to 2014 and, in cooperation with Nespresso, Nescafé, Modelez, Tchibo and Nestlé, it set a sustainable coffee agenda for the market. The private sector invested about $110 million in sustainable coffee that directly benefitted coffee producers. One third of Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee is sold to Europe and two thirds to the United States, Japan and Australia.  

-Carmen Morales