Community Group Saves their Farms, Futures

January 6, 2015

Submitted by Greta Knapp, Story Bank Coordinator, Counterpart International

Fabian Perez was all alone. After years of civil war crippled Guatemala’s highlands, farmers were used to working independently.

Then last year the “coffee rust” fungus destroyed coffee crops and, with it, farmers’ livelihoods. The white fly infested vegetables and worsened malnutrition. Already poor, already hungry, many lives were in danger.

It was too much for anyone to face on their own. So with help from Counterpart International, Fabian formed a community group with 27 other men and women farmers from his village in Aldea Chiaque Malacatancito.

Together, the farmers met to tackle problems and come up with solutions. Counterpart provided training to help them make their community organization effective, by working together to assign tasks, draft an action plan and apply for funding through the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA).

Photo: David Snyder/Counterpart International

Photo: David Snyder/Counterpart International

MAGA was impressed. Before, a few farmers in the area had received funding to help their individual farms, but like a drop in the bucket, not enough was being done to have an impact. Now, united as a group of farmers, MAGA recognized that the community group was organized and had the determination and the solutions to overcome their own challenges.

They helped the group build a Rural Development Learning Center (CADER), a little plot of land in their village where farmers can gather to learn from one another and practice new agricultural techniques.

“We’re doing this to learn how to make our farms last,” says Fabian, “so we have something to leave our children and grandchildren—a source of income they can count on.”

MAGA also gave them new fungus-resistant coffee seeds and helped the group build a greenhouse to protect their vegetables. In turn, Counterpart gave in-kind grants to help the farmers build irrigation pipes for their greenhouse. Since then, the farmers have grown 5,000 healthy tomato, broccoli and cabbage plants, which they share among themselves and their families.

Stronger than ever, the group soon attracted the support of other organizations too. The National Coffee Association trained the farmers with new tips for growing coffee in their climate. They will also help the group find buyers for their coffee crop once it’s ready for market.

The University of San Carlos also signed on to help Fabian’s farming group. An agriculture student worked for free with the community for 10 months, teaching them latest farming tools and techniques. This was so successful, that the University is now working to launch student-community partnerships in other farming villages.

“If we hadn’t formed our group, no one would have noticed us or given us help,” says community group member Blanca Lopez. “Because we work together, we make our village a little better every day.”

To date, Counterpart has helped 10 community groups start CADERs in the Huehuetengo region. Where once there was a village of individuals, now there is a community, trained and equipped to build more durable futures together.

“Now, this community feels important. They are not left behind,” said Counterpart’s Maria Esther Bucaro. “For the first time they feel like they belong–they are part of a country—because they are treated by their government and other organizations like people and not like beggars. Before, people thought of them as nothing but ‘poor’ or ‘lazy’ but then they used the tools they were given to change their own lives. Now they are known for their hard work instead: people now realize they are a community of problem-solvers.”

Counterpart International’s Food for Progress program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information, please visit Counterpart’s website.