Guatemala: Coffee with character

woman producing coffee in Guatemala
One of the women in the coffee association with a coffee-husking machine. (Photo: Jesús Villatoro /UNDP Guatemala)

Sonia Leticia Recinos Pérez is a member of a Small Coffee Farmers’ Association in the Department of Huehuetenango, one of the poorest in Guatemala, with extreme poverty rates over 30 percent.

Her association has 140 members, including 69 women. Together with the other women, Sonia has contributed her work and leadership skills to the creation of Café Teresa.

Sonia describes Café Teresa as "excellent quality coffee.” It is grown in contamination-free plots of land that meet the conditions required for the wet processing method.

Highlights

  • Coffee is the second-largest traded commodity in the world after oil and employs 25 million people in the developing world.
  • More than half of the population in Guatemala lives in poverty and close to 30 percent in extreme poverty, the departments of Quiche and Huehuetenango being the most affected.
  • 858 acres produced more than 1.6 million kilograms of green-gold conventional and certified organic coffee exported to Switzerland, the United States and Spain.
  • The initiative has a budget of US $3,750,000, funded by the Italian Government for 5 years.

“And most importantly,” Sonia says, “it is 100 percent produced by women."  

For this reason, her association decided to adopt the slogan “café con espíritu de mujer” (“coffee with a woman’s soul”).

"Here, coffee culture is our life," explains Sonia. From the time she was young, she learned from her father – who learned through his grandfather – the process of growing, caring for, cleaning, harvesting, roasting, processing and selling coffee.

"But in the past,” she explains, “there was no collective organization.  Now with the producers’ association, I can access services and processes such as the certification of Mayacret and Rainforest Alliance, so that with other small producers, we can meet a sustained demand and export our product."

UNDP’s Programme to Support Democratic Governance and Local Land and Economic Development (PRODEL) works with the Secretariat of Strategic Planning and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food to strengthen its capacity to promote the planning of rural land development by implementing the National Planning System and formulating development plans.

UNDP supports five associations of small coffee producers in nine municipalities in the department of Huehuetenango and three municipalities in the department of Quiché, in the highlands of Guatemala, directly benefiting 1,222 members, their families and communities, and indirectly 372,899 inhabitants of the 12 municipalities. In total, 858 acres produced more than 1.6 million kilograms of green-gold conventional and certified organic coffee exported to Switzerland, the United States and Spain.

Jesus Villatoro, PRODEL Coordinator, explained that the Programme "aims at providing smallholder farmers with the necessary technical assistance and channels to access good practices, equipment, credit and markets in order to achieve competitive advantages to ultimately provide the best economic, productive, social and environmental benefits."

Julio Martínez , UNDP Programme Officer, said, "The Programme has been modelled on Italian local development, where land agreements are signed, which strengthen opportunities for smallholder farmers to create [agricultural] chains based on economies of scale."

PRODEL has provided tools to address the problems in coffee production faced by members from La Democracia, San Pedro Necta and La Libertad. The programme carried out training on production, organizational strengthening and entrepreneurial linkages.

Asociación Guatemalteca de Exportadores (AGEXPORT, Guatemalan Exporters Association) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) contributed by transferring knowledge on strengthening entrepreneurial  activities and developing agricultural chains. The Centre for Studies in International Politics, Rome (CeSPI), serves as a bridge between Italy and Guatemala to strengthen methodologies and best practices on rural territorial economic development.

The inauguration of a coffee processing and storage centre marked a milestone, since producers had not had their own space that met the processing requirements needed for the sustainability of production. Processing under better conditions immediately results in higher revenues and better organization and social cohesion, as well as an opportunity to further expand the network.

"Farming is an art," explains Sonia. "The activities of the Programme, including the collection centre, are making us stronger and also helping us open a window on our municipalities so that our ‘coffee with a woman’s soul’ will be known in Guatemala and through the world."

— Carmen Lucía Morales Hernández