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107. ASOCAMPO – Chimaltenango, Guatemala

ASOCAMPO – Asociación Campesina Pochuteca – is comprised of 112 members who run the La Florida farm in the Atitlán region of Guatemala.  About 70 of the organization’s members live on the farm.  The remainder live in the adjacent municipality of San Miguel Pochuta.  They come from all parts of Guatemala and speak different languages, but they have one thing in common: they all were landless before buying the farm in 2002, and they are working to be able to give their children what their parents couldn’t give them – land to call their own.

Nearly 40 of the members of the association were born on La Florida or the coffee estate next door and grew up as as colonos landless workers who live year round on a vast farm.  For most of their lives they worked on a farm run by a patrón who made all the decisions about what investments to make, what varieties to plant where, when to harvest the coffee, where to sell it, etc.; now they are running the farm as a grassroots enterprise.

The farm is enormous by smallholder standards – more than 627 hectares, or about 1,549 acres – and incredibly rich in natural resources.  The farm starts at 1100 meters and reaches up to the top of the watershed at around 1600 meters, with coffee planted at the upper bounds of the farm, between 1350-1600 meters.  The farm contains two water sources and is a natural rainwater catchment.

Only about 175 hectares are planted with coffee.  But that coffee is awfully nice — grown at optimal altitudes under a diverse and well-managed shade canopy, protected from the southerly winds by well-designed windbreaks.

The farm includes vast stretches of forests – the association has two projects with the National Forest Institute in which it receives some modest compensation for sustainable forest management practices, including reforestation and fire protection.

ASOCAMPO also has macadamia.  And a sizeable area devoted to French beans, which the group exports in relatively small volumes through a cooperative called Cuatro Pinos that has commercial relationships with Costco and other major U.S. buyers.  The organization is in the final stages of construction of a packing plant adjacent to these fields that will employ 37 women from the community in sorting, washing and packaging French beans.

In addition to the infrastructure that it has built, ASOCAMPO has inherited plenty, including an aging mill, a dilapidated plantation house that the group still uses for meetings, and a small hydro-electric plant on the premises that (mostly) keeps the lights on.

We are working with ASOCAMPO under the CAFE Livelihoods project to help the organization increase coffee revenues by addressing some relative weaknesses in an otherwise impressive coffee chain.  One clear priority is investing in renovation — something the organization has not done since it purchased the farm in 2002. This nursery produced 40,000 Caturra plants in 2009 and will be expanded to produce 100,000 of the coveted Borbón variety this year.

The organization’s goal is to be able to give each member 1,000 new plants every year to plant new areas with coffee and replace aging trees.

ASOCAMPO’s coffee is exported by Manos Campesinas, imported by Sustainable Harvest, and currently available in the United States exclusively through Green Mountain Coffee.

BASIC INFORMATION.

Location: San Miguel Pochuta, Chimaltenango, Guatemala (“Traditional Atitlán”)
Elevation: 1350-1600 m
Members: 112
Total volume exported in 2009-2010: 1 container
Projected exports in 2010-2011: 1-2 containers
Certifications: organic, Fair Trade

3 Comments

  • Julie says:

    Michael, how does GMCR brand this coffee? It doesn’t look like it is their single-origin Guatemala. I love all this info, and would like to feature this in a future review, if we can figure out the coffee.

    • Hi, Julie. Thanks for your interest in ASOCAMPO.

      In the past, GMCR has not roasted this as a single origin coffee. You would have to talk to Lindsey or Ed to find out why. My sense is that there is not enough volume to justify anything but a short special reserve kind of run — just a container or two right now — and that there is still room to grow in terms of quality.

      Our CAFE Livelihoods project is making investments in both areas. The cooperative is in its second cycle of a large renovation effort now to boost productivity with an eye to quality — this year the nursery is planted with only Bourbon; last year it was Caturra. The project has also been making investments in post-harvest infrastructure — wet mill upgrades (including a new wastewater treatment system I am very excited about) — and processes — new classification processes between harvest and milling — that have potential to boost quality.

      We hope the coffee will get to a point in terms of volume and quality that GMCR or others feel it is worthy of a single-origin presentation.

      Hope this helps and will be sure to let you know how the organization does at harvest this year!

      Michael

  • Julie says:

    Thanks, Michael!

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