High Costs, Low Return

Though the country is still rebounding after a disastrous bout of la roya (coffee leaf rust) that peaked in 2012, Guatemala continues to produce high-quality, record-breaking coffees. In 2017, new and varied processing methods pushed prices at the Guatemalan Cup of Excellence contest to record-highs.

However, for the majority of coffee farmers, increasing costs of production, driven mainly by growing labor costs and higher inputs, combined with low C market prices have lead to unsustainable harvests where input costs more than farmers receive for their crops. Smallholder farmers are paying nearly twice as much, percentage-wise for labor than their larger counterparts.  Production costs continue to rise due to the high minimum wage in Guatemala compared to other Central American countries. Many farmers in the coffeelands of Guatemala have turned to beekeeping as a way to supplement their incomes and provide nutrition for their families.

 

A man harvests ripe cherries at Rio Dorado at harvest time.

Migration

The combination of low coffee prices, la roya and climate change’s pressure on agriculture has lead increasing numbers of Guatemalan to abandon their coffee fields and migrate.  As Guatemalan producers faced particularly small yields, good harvests in Brazil, Vietnam and Honduras lead to a further drop in worldwide coffee prices, making coffee farming in Guatemala all but unsustainable. To combat poverty and hunger, many coffee farmers have migrated north in search of work and better conditions. While other farmers have been following the suggestions of ANACAFE and diversifying their crops with intercropping of bananas, macadamias and more, many farmers still see little choice but to leave their homes for the promise of a better future in the north.

Smallholder Farmers Leading the Way

A 2016 report from the Danish Watchdog group Danwatch found that child labor and forced labor was rampant in the Guatemalan coffee sector. By purchasing micro-lots from small, family owned and operated farms, 32cup endeavors to reduce instances of child and forced labor in the Guatemalan coffee sector.

The growth of smallholder farmers in Guatemala due in part to an increasing demand for certified coffees. The subsequent growth of cooperatives has lead to an increase in labor fairness and decrease in exploitative labor.

Simultaneously, the quality of coffee being produced in Guatemala is increasing overall as larger plantations producing mediocre quality beans give way to smallholder farms producing at higher altitudes and more specialty crops. Cooperative participation is also increasing, especially as cooperatives often offer farmers financing and other supportive opportunities for improving their farming and processing. Cooperatives are also frequently able to offer higher prices for cherry than middlemen.