STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 4, Number 2

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40 STiR tea & coffee industry international / Issue 2, 2015 (April/May) O Story and Photos by Larry Luxner n the side of a steep mountain overlooking the little town of La Libertad in the department of Huehuetenango, Leonardo Samayoa spends his days pick- ing coffee beans. "I work from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. without rest, como un taco," says the 67-year-old campesino, who's done pretty much the same thing six days a week for half a century. For his trouble, Samayoa earns 2,000 quetzales a month — the equivalent of about $260. "My parents didn't send me to school, though I did learn to read and write at the age of 25," said Samayoa, a member of La Libertad's Esquipulas coffee cooperative, as he filled his basket with bright red arabica beans. "Thanks to coffee, at least my son went to high school." Iliana Martínez is manager of Samayoa's co-op, which operates from a storefront office along the main street of La Libertad, located 317 miles from Guatemala City at an altitude of 5,575 feet (1,700 meters) above sea level. Founded in 1964, the associa- tion now has 945 members, up from 680 members in 2012 and 380 back in 2007. In 2002, when plummeting prices forced thousands of Guatemalan coffee growers into bankruptcy, she said, many people from this area immigrated to the United States. But that changed when local farmers banded together and established the co-op. "Here, coffee is our number one activity," said local grower Luís Felipe Pascual. "About 90% of La Libertad depends on coffee. So if the coffee industry ever collapsed, it would affect every family here. It would be catastrophic for us," he said. Sadly, such a catastrophe seems to be unfolding throughout Guatemala once again, though this time it's being caused not by low commodity prices — but by the devastat- ing la roya fungus rots the leaves of coffee plants. "In the last harvest, our production was down by 20% here at our co-op," said Martínez, estimating that the fight against roya has forced up production costs at the Esquipulas co-op by at least 20%. "It is very difficult to face this crisis because we get no subsidies or government support to at least help alleviate this situation." National crisis On a national level, it's even worse. Production has fallen by around 40%, said Miguel Medina, president of Guatemala's Asociación Nacional de Café (Anacafé). Guatemala Devastated growers aim to control coffee rust disease, recover exports Rust ravaged coffee tree overlooking Canton La Mora, near La Libertad, in the department of Huehuetenango. Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) a leaf fungus also known as La Roya, has reduced the quality of Guatemalan coffee and depressed yields by 40% while forcing up production costs by 20%.

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