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Guatemalans Affected by Coffee Rust, Barely Make Ends Meet

World Food Programme - Tue, 8 Apr 2014 12:26 GMT
Author: World Food Programme
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The Coffee Rust Crisis is hitting households’ economies in the small village of La Conquista. One of those is Iliana’s: Her husband relocated to Mexico to find work. She grew and sold plantains and bananas, but they are not as profitable as coffee. In order to make ends meet she  did not enroll her eldest daughter in school.  Fortunately between May and October, WFP and the Government of Guatemala will provide food and technical assistance to the families of La Conquista to help them overcome this crisis.

GUATEMALA CITY. --Iliana Miranda Alvarez lives in the community of La Conquista, Department of San Marcos. She is 31 years old, married, and mother of five children: two girls and three boys. The youngest one is only one year and five months old. Just like her neighbor's, her family's main source of income is coffee. Iliana and her husband own a lot of land in which they grow coffee and bananas. The lot is small and yields are low, to supplement their income and cover the family´s basic expenses, Iliana's husband works as a migrant labourer.

Coffee Rust: The Silent Plague That Began 2 Years Ago Since 2012, La Conquista (in Guatemala) and other coffee growing communities in Central America have been affected by a plague of Coffee Rust. The result: Coffee crop yields have been reduced drastically during the 2012-2013 harvest season and no change is expected for the current 2013-2014 season. The impact has been considerably negative on families whose main source of income is coffee production. Heads of households are forced to find jobs in nearby coffee plantations, but these have also been hit by the plague. Iliana's husband used to work for "La Union" plantation, which was also the source of income for many other locals. With coffee trees affected by the Coffee Rust at home and nearby plantations, Iliana's husband was forced to go to Mexico in search of work. He was successful, but now he has to factor in additional expenses, such as transportation fares and living expenditures, which have reduced the family's income by 10 percent, when compared to the previous year. The highest family income is 450 Quetzals (US$58), which doesn't even cover a quarter of the cost of Guatemala's Basic Food Basket- nutritional necessities, which is around 2,900 Quetzals (US$376) a month.

Bananas and Plantains Can't Replace Coffee Despite their efforts to commercialize alternative crops, such as bananas and plantains, the women of La Conquista are bearing the brunt of the Coffee Rust crisis. To their dismay, the production and market prices of bananas and plantains are simply not enough to replace coffee. In the face of ec0nomic hardship, Iliana had to resort to a coping strategy to save money:  This year she decided not to enroll her eldest daughter in school simply because her family cannot afford the cost of uniforms and books. But at this stage any savings could not be enough. The situation will only worsen come May, which is the beginning of the Lean Season. Prices of staple foods such as maize will rise in the local market, making it harder for Coffee-Rust affected families to access nutritious foods.

La Conquista will receive WFP assistance Fortunately La Conquista will receive food and technical assistance from WFP and the Government of Guatemala. In exchange for building assets, the families in La Conquista will receive food to supplement their incomes between May and October, which is the critical Lean Season. The most vulnerable families will receive food rations with maize, beans, and vegetable oil to cover 50 percent of their food needs for the next six months. WFP works in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, which will also provide technical assistance to the community to improve soil conservation and raise crop yields. Iliana and other women in the community have started to build live fences (groups of trees, bushes, etc.) on their plots to prevent soil erosion and to improve soil quality in preparation for the technical assistance in the months to come.

16,000 Families in 6 Departments Are Receiving Assistance Besides the families in La Conquista, WFP currently supports 16,000 families affected by the Coffee Rust in six departments: Guatemala, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango, El Quiche, and San Marcos. The beneficiary families are selected on criteria defined by WFP to guarantee that the most-in-need households receive assistance. Families are selected based on the following:

1. High vulnerability. 2. Own a small land plot with damaged crops caused by the 2012-2013 dry season, 50% of the crops were affected during the last crop cycle, or the family does not own land at all. 3. No food stocks. 4. Children under 5 years old live in the household. 5. Women as head of the household. 6. Members with special needs, elderly people, etc.

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