December 6, 2016

Why Sustainability Must Be Community-Oriented and Community-Led


There are many areas in which Ixil Guatemalans want to see progress: education, health, food sovereignty, economic diversification, and coffee leaf rust (la roya) recovery. This region of Guatemala is a deeply indigenous, impoverished coffee-growing area.

I work with The Coffee Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to tackle these issues. We want to focus not just on coffee farmers, but on the communities those coffee farmers belong to.

And we want to bring change through campesino-a-campesino, farmer-to-farmer, methods. Because change needs to be both community-oriented and community-led.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Deberían Las Comunidades Cafetaleras Liderar la Sostenibilidad?

Street Ixil Guatemala

The town of Sotzil in the Ixil region of Guatemala. Credit: Kelly Kowalski

Campesino-a-Campesino: Why Change Must Be Community-Led

When outsider experts are brought into a community to lead change, barriers can stand in the way of progress. The experts may lack in-depth understanding of local issues, they may speak a different language, and they may struggle to foster trust.

In contrast, farmer-to-farmer methodology is based on the belief that when a community leads change, with farmers learning from each other, they are empowered. They are more open to undertaking the challenge of improving farming methods or social conditions, and they are more likely to produce the expected results.

See also: How the Ixil Guatemalans Are Fighting La Roya Organically

Mujeres de Ixil

A group of women in The Coffee Trust’s Food Sovereignty program. Credit: Kelly Kowalski

It’s important that development projects are designed to address the problems of the community in question, as identified by that community. Solutions must be co-created by the people they will affect.

In the Ixil region, we work with the local cooperative, Asociación Chajulense, and families living there to craft strategic plans for development. Local knowledge and local resources are treated as the key to overcoming obstacles. And as project participants learn from their neighbors, the movement spreads organically within the community.

Women working

Women working on the Savings and Micro-Credit project meet to make payments on loans and discuss business strategy. Credit: The Coffee Trust

Farmer-to-Farmer Training in Practice

To encourage farmer-to-farmer training, The Coffee Trust adopts a five-stage methodology. Here are those stages as adapted to the Roya Recovery Project, in which farmers work to overcome coffee leaf rust (la roya) through organic farming and soil replenishment.

Level 1: The Coffee Trust’s Director of Agriculture works with an agronomist to design a training program. Neither of these people will be indigenous to the Ixil region.

Level 2: The agronomist trains three indigenous technicians. These technicians are university graduates who attained their degree through a scholarship program of The Coffee Trust. They are from the local region and will practice what they have been taught on their own plots of land.

Roya Recovery Project participant

Gaspar Marvin Raymundo, a Roya Recovery Project participant. Credit: The Coffee Trust

Level 3: Those three technicians train approximately 20 indigenous promoters. These are coffee producers from the local coffee cooperative.

Level 4: The 20 promoters train 750-1,000 local farmers, all members of the local Fair Trade and organic coffee association.

Level 5: Farmers use their training to come up with their own solutions to the problems they face on their farms, and then share them with their promoter. This promoter can share this newly discovered knowledge with the other 19 promoters, who in turn will share it with all other participants in the program.

Coffee farmers

Coffee farmers in San Gaspar Chajul. Credit: Kelly Kowalski

A Promoter’s Perspective

Francisco Matom Marcos is a Promoter, trained in the third level of the Roya Recovery Project and responsible for in turn training hundreds of local producers. This makes him a catalyst for experimentation and innovation.

“I like to try new things. When I learn something new, I put it into action really fast. I don’t want to waste any time,” he says.

When coffee leaf rust (la roya) devastated his coffee crop, he started participating in workshops on effective microorganisms (EMs), natural microbial additions to soil which nourish and fortify it. It’s an organic alternative to chemical fungicides. EMs provide defense against coffee rust and help strengthen coffee plants.

Coffee Trust

Francisco Matom Marcos with Bill Fishbein, Founder and Director of The Coffee Trust. Credit: The Coffee Trust

Francisco decided to use EM as a result of these workshops, and has seen positive results. “I kept applying the EMs and my harvest increased. Now I’m going to harvest 1,000 pounds of coffee. My harvest has increased by 600 pounds.”

But he’s also experimenting with his own variation of the original EM recipe, which would dramatically reduce the program expenses for EM production and make them even more accessible to farmers in the region.

Learning through experience and experimenting with solutions on a small scale is what the farmer-to-farmer approach to development is all about. Francisco is an example of how using these methods can empower farmers, inspire experimentation, and find local solutions to local challenges.

Women sorting coffee

Women sort coffee in a processing facility. Credit: Kelly Kowalski

Through campesino-a-campesino training, we want to see the community’s success grow. We want to see food security, good education, and organic high-quality coffee farming throughout the Ixil region – and even farther afield, into the the surrounding communities in Guatemala.

Other farmers will make on-site visits and learn from farmers successfully applying tools and methods that foster lasting, healthy results for their families and land. When the coffee market is high, farmers can have a fantastic year.

But our vision is that when the market is poor, or other unforeseeable factors negatively impact the coffee crops, farmers in the Ixil region will still be able to feed their families, educate their children, live healthy lives, and strengthen their crops and soils.

Deeply impoverished communities like that of Ixil Guatemalans need change. But solutions must be community-oriented and community-led. Only this way will they be empowering and effective solutions to the problems local communities face.

Feature photo: the town of Sotzil in the Ixil region of Guatemala. Credit: The Coffee Trust

Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.

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