Guatemala’s Coffee Crisis: Diversification as a Solution

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

By Lionel Vigil

News Americas, Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Tues. Mar. 12, 2024: Like other commodities, coffee prices can swing wildly. For small farmers, producing coffee beans is a labor-intensive process that only generates income once a year. When prices fall, total annual income can fall with them. If coffee is the only source of income, farmers can face debt pressure, food insecurity and poverty.

A worker picks coffee cherries during a harvest in Santa Anita la Union, Quetzaltenango province, Guatemala, on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. According to the National Coffee Association, Guatemala coffee shipments fell to 49,910 bags from 61,839 bags a year earlier. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The unpredictability of coffee prices is one of factors that drives Guatemalans to leave their country. The only long-term way to address this insecurity is to help coffee farmers diversify their crops and other sources of income.

That is what is happening in Huehuetenango.

Farmers take advantage of trainings at the Farmer Field School in Loma de La Mina Nina. One of these trainings is how to grow oyster mushrooms.

Coffee farmers like Enrique Samayoa learn how to grow mushrooms in an environmentally sustainable way. They build greenhouses covered with plastic sheets with corn husks as the underlying layer. They require little water and no chemical pesticides or fertilizer. Oyster mushrooms grow rapidly. Enrique and other farmers harvest them every 45 days.

Enrique’s family has integrated mushrooms into their diet. As important, he sells his surplus in the local market. With very low input costs, Enrique’s profit margin is high. This provides capital to invest in additional new crops like corn, beans and plantains, which also have short growing periods of 2-3 months. With the addition of livestock, farmers like Enrique can provide their families with regular quantities of nutritious food and produce surplus to increase and stabilize their annual incomes.

Coffee farming in Guatemala, Peru and other countries does not have to mean low and irregular income, overdependence on a changing climate and the choice between more of the same an arduous journey to another country. Through training and other low-cost assistance, coffee farmers can build on what they already do and grow their way to better lives for themselves and their communities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lionel Vigil is Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at World Neighbors.