I want to talk about our visit to the beneficio and more about what the CCDA (Campesino Committee of the Highlands – Comité Campesino del Altiplano) does. Everything short of roasting is completed at the beneficio and nothing goes to waste. Small producers sell their coffee cherries to the beneficio, they are shelled with machines, sorted, washed and then placed in rows to dry in the sun. Then they are peeled again to make ‘green gold’, which is coffee ready to be shipped and roasted. The coffee sold to Canada, the USA, and parts of Europe is 100% organic and fair trade. It takes just over 500 lbs of picked coffee to yield 100 lbs of coffee fit to be roasted; the other 400 lbs are used to create fertilizer and compost for future yields. Some of the coffee produced there is sold through Education in Action as Café Justicia – 100% of the cost of the coffee goes right back to the CCDA to help communities and small producers. We have been drinking the coffee the whole time we have been here and I cannot wait to place an order when I get home. Please contact Janet St-Jean to purchase some of your own.
The beneficio is so much more than a coffee operation, though. It is a centre whose sole purpose is to protect small producers and create natural alternatives to now modern (and ineffective) agricultural practices. It’s an educational centre that shows producers how to plant crops in different arrangements (other than the typical rows) to obtain optimal water usage, and how different plants grow (natural seeds vs. modified/hybrids). There has been a huge problem with coffee rust the last few harvests and the CCDA is working on developing plants that are resistant to it as well as natural fungicides that will be effective against it. The organization has different programs in place to provide producers with low-cost or no cost supplies to help them grow organic and fair trade coffee that will be resistant to the rust.
We were already incredibly impressed and amazed with what the organization does we went for a bit of a hike along the side of the mountain Quixayá sits on and found ourselves in paradise. Lush green, plants everywhere and a stream with small rapids left us all in awe – Rio de Quixayá is a slice of heaven. The CCDA uses the land around it to harvest tilapia, coffee, corn, and snails for consumption. The most incredible part of it was that all of the sprinklers and fountains use absolutely no electricity to run, just gravity from the flow of the lake. The best part (in my opinion) is that the program teaches women about sustainability, nutrition, and horticulture and empowers them to be more than a housewife which is the typical career path for women. In a place where indigenous women are voiceless, this is a move in the right direction.
Sustainability is so incredibly important where people do not make enough to feed their families a balanced diet. A presentation by IMAP (Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura) was incredibly informative and I cannot wait to employ some of what we learned back home. Their grounds are incredible, everything was built and created using local materials. Everything from plastic bottles to manure was reused and repurposed in the construction of the buildings. Mind you, most things here are reused and recycled. Part of that is due to necessity and limited resources, but more of that is the resourceful and prudent (as opposed to wasteful) nature of Guatemalans. They also use the Mayan calendar, lunar cycles, astronomy and the cosmos to work with the land rather than try to manipulate it like we typically do. It was amazing.
The next few days will be spent building a community centre in San Filipe and completing a market activity. I’ll report back on those.