Sunday, April 20, 2008

Café Finca de Santa Anita

This past weekend I went with some friends to southwestern Guatemala for a tour of an organic, Fair Trade coffee finca (plantation) which is run by a community of ex-guerillas.

The eco-tour was hosted by the NGO, Cafe Conciencia - I can´t say enough about how great this tour was. Not only did we enjoy the beautiful nature in the tropical forest and learn how coffee is grown and processed, we heard the stories of some of the community members.
After the civil war, many of the guerrillas were displaced, left without any money or option for survival. These community members banned together and, because of the peace accord, were able to get a loan to purchase this land (about 1000 acres?) in 1998. The coffee finca had been abandoned for eight years prior to the purchase so it took a full year just to wack the weeds away and initiate an infrastructure with which to live. They had no electricity or water. Actually, to date they are still without adequate water.
This is Anna from Café Conciencias, and Teresa, who guided us on the hike. During the war, Teresa´s father was killed by the government based on a false accusation. She and her mother were living in a refugee camp in Honduras when she decided to join the guerrillas at age 14, staying eight years until the end of the war.
She now has her own family and she, along with 32 other families, run this cooperative. They all come from different backgrounds and areas, speaking five different languages.

Have you ever...? It was all I could do not to pick him up and put him in my pocket. So cute.

We came across this hard-working niño with mom (carrying a baby on her back) and brothers, happily hauling wood up a hill.

There´s a primary school on the property and they all go, but help out with the finca in the afternoons. In reality, the chance for these children to actually complete high-school is only 4%.
At roughly 1000 feet, the location has the ideal climate and fertility for bountiful crops. However, without the technical knowledge and various other factors, it isn´t producing to it´s potential and they´re falling short each year.

There is daily, intensive labour, even though harvest is only in September through December, due to constant weeding, pruning, etc... all by hand and with machetes. The coffee plants need just the right amount of shade so there are numerous plant varieties throughout the finca, including bananas, sold locally, and other kinds for wood (fuel) and wood (construction), amoung others I can´t remember at this point. Mucho mas información.

One can almost see the active volcano, Santa Anita through the mist. We were lucky not to get caught in the daily rainfall, but it was certaily hot and humid while we hiked. But, aaaah, the clean air was refreshing after breathing all the exhaust fumes of Xela the past month.
We got the chance to cool off a bit in the waterfall.

Luis, a mild-mannered and gracious community member, gave us the low down on their history and current struggles. He joined the rebels when he was 20 and, since he had left his family without any contact, after the war he was too embarrassed to return to them with nothing to offer.

He gave us an account of how they got to where they are today. None of them had any expertise, only a great desire to survive. With some help from the Red Cross, initially, and other organizations, they feel fortunate as they are better off than most like communites. However, the grace period for the loan is up and they are supposed to start repaying, with 12% annual interest, on the property which seems to have been over-valued at about US $270,000. They´re currently in negotiations with the government over it.

They have a long road ahead. Costs for organic certification and Fair Trade are extremely great and the Fair Trade price, although still slightly above market value, has not not increased for the past seven years. One way they are trying to get past some barriers is to roast and sell the coffee themselves via the NGO´s website, I recommend it. Because the Fair Trade standards are high, only the good beans are selected, it´s organic, etc. I saw it. I tried it. It´s delicious. Anyway, it´s $10, half of the cost goes toward shipping and the rest for them.

As you can tell, I was really impressed with this tour. They were so forth-coming when answering our questions and, in an under-stated way, were gracious hosts. I admire all the avenues they are taking to keep their cooperative going and their appreciation for all they´ve managed to achieve so far. This day will stay with me for many years to come.

Later that night, with what little energy I had left after a week of salsa dancing, spanish lessons, and a long hike, we took in a ´futbol´ (soccer) match.

Rams = Chivas español.
The Xelaju (shay-la-who) team was playing a Guatemala city team, their biggest rivals.

We chose to not sit in the hooligan (cheap) seats, but found our expensive $6-seat section rather subdued. There was a wind band, and vaious call outs ike ´punta´, ´vamos Super Chivas´, `aye aye aye`, not to mention the palabras malo (bad words) which the lady in front of us pointed out when we were trying to imitate them.

Unfortunately, the Super Chivas, lost. We could see the rival fans dressed in white, cheering all they could, from a distance. They were enclosed behind fences in a small section to prevent riots.

For me, the best part of the game for was watching the vendors. We saw everything from pots of piña (pineapple) to large boxes of Domino´s pizza. My favorite were the guys selling little bags of nuts. They were carrying massive tongs and holding out one little nut with them for sampling purposes. Ya never get to sample Planters.

And have you ever seen a vendor carrying confectionary items on her head?

Finca tours and futbol games, Ilsa recommends!


At Monday, April 21, 2008 9:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,
Great post! I can feel your passion for these hard working people. You must be in great shape by now as it seems you are getting around quite a lot. I'm very thankful that you are with a group!
Pics are wonderful. Such lush growth! Stay safe while you are enjoying your many adventures.

At Tuesday, April 22, 2008 2:02:00 PM, Blogger Ilsa said...

One would think I'd be in great shape by now, but alas... too many outings to the mennonite bakery are keeping me huffing and puffing. Beats sitting in front of your tv though.


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