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Jun 06.4

Soap Box: De la Gente

Posted In: Charity Pot

Charity Pot partner De la Gente helps to empower communities in Guatemala to build profitable, sustainable businesses that improve the quality of life. Development Director, Lottie Riddle, tells us more about De la Gente and the Guatemalan community they work with.

At De la Gente (meaning “from the people”) we advance sustainable, community-led strategies to promote economic development, direct trade and to improve the livelihoods of smallholder coffee farmers, their families and communities.

Woman holding plants

We focus on both sides of the cup: ensuring quality coffee for consumers and quality of life for producers. Life isn’t always easy for coffee farming communities in Guatemala. Isolation - geographically, economically and socially - has led to frequent disempowerment of the farmers in the coffee chain, high levels of vulnerability and extreme poverty amongst producer communities.

De la Gente works with communities to deliver technical training and advice, leadership development, access to microfinance, and distribution of machinery, facility repairs and inputs. We also empower producers by enabling access to market and business opportunities; supporting the producers with the commercialization and distribution of coffee.

With our unique organizational model, De la Gente facilitated $150,000 worth of coffee sales in 2013, building direct relationships between farmers and consumers. This allows the farmers to invest in the education, healthcare, housing and nutrition needed for healthy families and thriving communities.

Roya devastates coffee harvest

Right now, the coffee farming industry in Guatemala is going through turbulent times faced with the impact of roya (coffee leaf rust), a wind borne fungus that has swept across Central America. It’s so serious that the government has declared it a 'national emergency,’ and it continues to capture international headlines.

Meet Maria: coffee farmer, community leader and mother of five. Maria’s biggest concern right now is how to feed her children. “At the moment, there is not enough of a [coffee] harvest for us to be able to [afford to] feed our family”. It’s difficult to plan ahead when you’re so focused on the day-to-day needs of your family. Malnutrition is just one of the many devastating effects of the roya.

Maria and Her Family

The crisis has been driven by two main factors: changes in temperature and rain patterns due to climate change have created ideal growing conditions for the outbreak, and the vulnerability of poor coffee farmers. As the demand for coffee grows, coffee farmers have invested heavily in growing coffee and most depend almost exclusively on income from their coffee harvest. This dependency on one crop has created a crisis.

We’ve seen first hand the devastating impacts of roya on families; loss of coffee production leads to lack of income forcing farming families to make difficult decisions: reducing household purchases, not sending children to school or choosing to leave behind coffee farming for other work. With tears welling in his eyes, Felipe, a coffee farmer in Western Guatemala tells us, “I honestly don't know what will become of us, what will become of me, as a result of’s hard”.

Maria and Felipe aren’t alone in their struggles; this is the reality for producers across Guatemala. We’re working with hundreds of vulnerable coffee farmers in Guatemala to not only survive and recover from the shock of the crisis, but also plan towards a brighter future.

Farmer holding out coffee beans

Thanks to the support of LUSH, we’ve been able to start the road to recovery for Maria and Felipe’s community. The community struggles not just with roya, but a combination of poor soil, lack of agricultural education, and few resources to invest in growing strong, healthy plants. Our holistic program supports all of their barriers to economic development - farmer-to-farmer training to advance knowledge and best practices, resources to reduce the immediate losses of their plants, replacement plants and repairs to their processing equipment. Soon they’ll once again start to earn an income from coffee farming.

For more information about De la Gente, please visit