Project.History.3First Project: 2004 to 2006

Strategies for International Development (SID) began its first project in Guatemala in Northern Chimaltenango, the first of the Western Highland departments. We helped 600 farm families in the municipalities of Comalapa and San Martin find new buyers for their cash crops, make business plans, reclaim their hillside land, and increase their productivity and income. In 2005, SID expanded the program to another 600 families in 25 communities in the nearby municipality of Poaquil.

Farmers found new buyers for cash crops such as eggs, amaranth, coffee, artisanal weaving, and lemons. They made business plans, and they reclaimed and conserved their land by planting trees in the upper reaches of their watersheds and constructing slow-formation terraces on their farmland. They increased their productivity in corn by 22% and their productivity in beans by 16% percent. Coffee farmers increased their productivity by 62%, from 4.78 to 7.69 quintals per 1/4 acre (a quintal is equal to 100 pounds). All together, the farmers increased their sale of cash crops and their average annual income increased 116 percent, from $321 to $692.


A Focus on Coffee: 2007 to 2011

In 2007, SID changed the program to focus exclusively on coffee because coffee is the major cash crop in the region, and it offers the best opportunity for helping farmers make the full transition from subsistence to commercial farming. Most of the farmland is on mountainsides, and coffee is the ideal cash crop because the trees help hold the soil.

SID began the program with 1,044 coffee-farming families in 35 communities in the municipalities of Poaquil, Comalapa, and Jilotepeque. At the outset of the program, the farmers averaged 5 quintals of coffee (500 pounds) per 1/4 acre. They did not husk their coffee, and their average annual income from coffee was $131.

Every year we helped them meet and negotiate with exporters, assess their alternatives, make business plans, and improve their business decisions. During the remainder of the dry season and rainy season from April to November, we helped them increase their productivity by shading and pruning their trees and fertilizing them at least three times during the rainy season. We also helped them terrace their land and soil erosion on their hillside land. During the harvest season from December to March, we helped them husk and dry their coffee and sell it directly to exporters to gain a much higher price.

Every year, new farmers joined the program, and every year the old and new farmers increased their average productivity, husking and sales to exporters, and income. In the 2011/12 coffee year from April 2011 to March 2012, the 2,100 farm families in the program increased their productivity from 15.63 quintals per 1/4 acre to 17.66 quintals, husked and sold 50% of their coffee directly to exporters, and increased their average income from coffee to $1,058 a year.

Combating Coffee Leaf Rust: 2012 to 2014

In latter 2012, a severe attack of leaf rust swept through Central America.  The leaf rust is an airborne, rust-colored fungus that attaches itself to the underside of the leaves of coffee trees and reduces photosynthesis and the growth of the leaves, coffee blossoms, and fruit. In the 2012/13 coffee year (April 2012 to March 2013), productivity fell by 13%. Most of the coffee was too small to husk, and husking fell to 7%. Average income fell by half, from $1,058 to $520.

In response, SID nearly doubled the number of families in the project and focused on helping them combat the leaf rust. We helped 4,402 farm families spray their coffee trees with copper sulfate and lime to kill the leaf rust. They also sprayed their trees with an anti-fungal, and they replaced severely infected trees with new coffee seedlings. In addition, they pruned their shade and coffee trees more aggressively to reduce the humidity in their coffee plots.

The famers gradually controlled the leaf rust, and in the 2013/14 coffee year they returned their productivity to 15 quintals per 1/4 acre, increased their husking and sales directly to exporters to 30% of their harvest, and they regained most of the income they had lost to the leaf rust by achieving an average income of $793.

Graduation in Chimaltenango, New Region in Alta Verapaz: 2015

In March 2016, SID graduated a third of the farmers from the project in Northern Chimaltenango and began a new project with coffee farmers in the Department of Alta Verapaz. For more information on this project, please go to Current Program.