The Problem we are addressing:
Among the major contributors to the chemical pollution of Lake Atitlan is chemical fertilizer, pesticide and fungicide run-off into the Lake. A major source of this problem is chemical coffee farming. The huge amount of fertilizer running off into the lake is a main contributor to recurring cyanobacteria algal blooms. Some types of cyanobacteria produce toxins that attack the liver of humans and cause fish kills. This Toxin CAN NOT be filtered or boiled out of water and lake water is the primary source of drinking water for over 200,000 people living around Lake Atitlan. Reducing chemical fertilizer inflow into Lake Atitlan is ABSOLUTELY critical for the water supply of over 200,000 people.
Part of the Solution:
Already around the lake there is a growing collective movement to transition to organic farming, both because they get more money for their produce and because many farmers are seeing that their soil is being destroyed by the chemical fertilizers. Currently in Guatemala there is not a large consensus to eat organic vegetables so there is not a large market for them however the trend world wide for organic coffee has created a large market for higher value (organic, farm to cup, fair trade) coffee beans and the native population is aware of this opportunity to increase their standard of living by producing a higher value crop. Currently organic coffee sells for about 35% more then conventional coffee and Organic, farm to cup, fair trade coffee sells for about 50% more then conventional coffee.
We are working with an already established organic coffee farming cooperative of 175 organic coffee growers, Cafe Maya Chacaya Atitlan (APROCAMCA). This cooperative is struggling to survive though because they don’t have the processing equipment to survive sustainably and grow to promote more farmers to change to organic practices. The past few years they have been paying to use the equipment of another local cooperative however this year, that cooperative has sold their equipment which will force APROCAMCA to transport all their coffee over 20 miles (that’s a long ways for poor farmers in Guatemala to carry 100lb bags on their back) to have it processed thus drastically increasing their costs and labor. We have also identified 2 other cooperatives (1 has 125 conventional, chemical fertilizer coffee growers and the other has 92 members) that have approached APROCAMCA wanting to join them. APROCAMCA has not been able to facilitate adding this many members though because of their equipment needs.
Also, APROCAMCA is currently using a very mediocre composting method utilizing only the coffee hulls left over from the previous years processing to compost and add back to the farmers soil as organic fertilizer. We have setup a program with ARLA, a local organization of 400 volunteers working to promote Lake Health, that is harvesting the invasive water plant hydrilla out of Lake Atitlan to bring this hydrilla to the APROCAMCA composting facility to be mixed with their coffee hulls at no cost to APROCAMCA. Hydrilla is very high in both nitrogen and phosphorus as well as other trace minerals and will result in a much higher nutrient level in their composts. Due to the growth rate and reproductive mechanisms of hydrilla there is a perpetual supply of hydrilla to be used at all times for their compost. Also, we will be utilizing EM (Effective Microorganisms) in their composting which is well documented in many studies to produce a high quality, organic compost in 2-3 months instead of the 1 year time frame that traditional composting takes. As part of the equipment package we are looking to provide for them, we would also like to get them a reliable used Toyota 4 x 4. This truck will be used to transport manure from a local horse farm that we have arranged to provide it to APROCAMCA for their compost, to transport their coffee in from the fields and to the storage facility after processing, transport workers to the fields and transport their organic compost to the fields (currently all this is done by manual labor!) It will also be used as the “town ambulance” as this is a VERY poor town and has no medical service from nearby towns.
The enhancement of their composting methods by adding hydrilla, horse manure and EM will greatly increase the quality and quantity of their compost (organic fertilizer for their coffee) thus increasing the health and production of their coffee plants resulting in higher yields and higher value product thus increasing the standard of living of all involved. This combined with providing them with the 2 pieces of equipment necessary to remove the hulls from the coffee and get their beans to the drying stage will enable APROCAMCA to be able to sustainable grow as an organization and continue to transition more and more coffee farmers from chemical fertilizers to organic farming methods in the Lake Atitlan watershed. Immediately upon receiving the equipment APROCAMCA will accept the 2 waiting organizations of chemical coffee growers into APROCAMCA and has agreed to help them transition to organic coffee farming thus immediately transitioning 217 farmers from chemical to organic farming practices inside the Lake Atitlan watershed.
Organizations involved and their contributions:
APROCAMCA- 1. Has agreed to pay for all supplies and provide all labor for the installation of the water pump and coffee hulling equipment. 2. Provide all labor to produce the compost to facilitate the transition of the new members. 3. Has agreed to provide training for the new members on organic coffee growing techniques.
ARLA- Has agreed to use it’s 400 volunteers to harvest and transport the Hydrilla to the AGROCAMCA facility on a weekly basis.
Lake Atitlan Environmental Interests- 1. Will provide training to APROCAMCA on enhanced composting techniques. 2. Will provide training to APROCAMCA on use and application of EM.
The Goal of the Project:
The goal of this grant is to provide the equipment and materials necessary to increase the membership of APROCAMCA from 175 local coffee farmers to over 350 thus transitioning over 175 chemical coffee farmers to organic coffee farming in the watershed of Lake Atitlan.
Costs of the Project:
To facilitate the growth of this organic coffee growers cooperative and help more coffee farmers transition from chemical farming to Organic Farming practices inside the Lake Atitlan Watershed we would like to propose funding for the following items:
- $13,000 for a used Toyota 4×4 pickup to facilitate transporting beans to and from facilities and for obtaining organic inputs (manure, vegetation, etc) for compost and transporting compost to the farms. Titled in Associations name so can’t be resold by an individual.
- $12,500 to purchase the water pump and coffee hulling machine needed to process their coffee and make the cooperative sustainable and able to grow into the future (machine is pictured above).
- $4,500 to purchase EM, molasses and transport containers.
This project will increase the current number of coffee farmers in the region that utilize organic farming practices from 175 to over 350. This project will also increase the standard of living of those 350 families by increasing the value of their crops by 35% to 50%. Last year this cooperative produced 125,000 pounds of green coffee ready for export and sold it for $4.98/kilo (@ $2.26 lb.). For a total sales of @ $282,500. Taking the lower percentage gain from organic, farm to cup, fair trade marketing of 35% that amounts to a net gain of $98,875 (that’s just for the original 175 members). Factoring in the 175 membership increase and increased production due to more productive composting and growing methods this project will create over $250,000 of increased income for over 350 local families in just the first year at a cost of less then $30,000 and transition over 175 chemical coffee growers to organic in the Santiago bay area of Lake Atitlan. The Rotarian investment of just under $30,000 will facilitate millions of dollars in increased income for these indigenous families over the coming years! Combine that with the impact on the reduction of nutrient inflow into Lake Atitlan and we are VERY excited about this project!