Since 2003, Atlas has been working with a group of villages north of Santa Maria de Nebaj (department of Quiché,) Guatemala. Agros International, a Seattle-based NGO made the initial introduction, and has continued to facilitate Atlas’ relationship with the growers of Quiché ever since.
Before 2012, coffee farmers in 7 villages near the town of Nebaj were loosely organized and promoting their coffee under the name Ixil A'achimbal. In late 2012, these producers formally associated under the name APROCAFI (Asociacion de Productores de Cafe de la Region Ixil.) Seven of the 11 member Board of Directors are coffee farmers, each representing one of the seven villages that have contributed to Atlas’ Ixil A’achimbal coffee over the years. APROCAFI’s General Manager Diego Bernals worked with Save the Children for many years before assuming his roll at the head of the association. With the support of Fundación Agros in Guatemala, Diego wrote to Atlas in April 2013 with a proposal for a plan to eliminate the coffee leaf rust, or “roya” that has been plaguing all of Central America.
Diego’s proposal involved the acquisition of an organic fungicide developed by an organization in Nicaragua specifically for organic farmers with little access to cash. The base of the product is an oil extracted from the neem tree which grows easily in Central America. Neem oil is known for its anti-fungal properties, and when combined with minerals such as copper and zinc makes a very effective fungicide. The product is made in a concentrated form, then diluted with water to make the final product. A small amount of powdered soap is added to make the product adhere to the leaves more effectively.
In May 2013, Atlas provided to APROCAFI funds to purchase equipment to apply this organic fungicide (backpack spray pumps, protective gear, etc.) and train farmers how to properly apply the product These funds also cover enough of the product for two of the four required applications in the aldeas worst affected by the roya. Atlas’ Chris Davidson visited the Ixil aldeas in early June 2013 in order to better understand the situation, and to document the early stages of the fungicide application process. You can find photos from his visit on Atlas’ Picasa photo page here.
Through this initial investment APROCAFI has the equipment, education and inputs to bring the hardest hit farms back to health. They’ll require ongoing support to continue purchasing the fungicide in order to keep the roya at bay. It’s something of a perfect storm now for coffee farmers dealing with lower than usual production, higher than usual operating costs and now the lowest C market we’ve seen in years. Fortunately initial indications of the 2013/14 harvest are looking favorable, so we’ll continue to support our producer partners in the Ixil as needed to help see them into a healthy new season.