by Kyra Coates and Marta Julia Ixtuc Cuc
In Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, the topic of climate change is on the lips of everyone. In recent years there has been a large increase in natural disasters, from excessive drought in the high regions of the country to excessive flooding and increase in average temperatures. In the rural areas many communities largely grow their own food through traditional farming methods passed down from generation to generation, yet in recent years many of these techniques no longer work and malnutrition and starvation are on the rise. While 88% of agricultural land in Guatemala is in large-scale farms typically growing food for export, 92% of all farms in Guatemala are small community or family farms. Crop losses have been between 50% – 90% across the board. According to a report from the United Nations, as of June 2016, 3.5 million people in the “dry corridor” region of Guatemala needed humanitarian assistance.
Coffee farms have been the backbone of much of the exports in the Agriculture industry, yet now, a prolific fungus called coffee “rust” is spreading further and further into the highlands due to increasing heat. Between 2010 and 2014 alone coffee rust caused an estimated $500 million in damages to coffee harvests in Central America.
Guatemala only contributes 0.5% of carbon emissions on the planet, yet due to its landscape and location, is in the top ten countries most affected by climate change. Agriculture makes up 12% of the national economy. And for Friendship Bridge, approximately 25% of our clients are in agriculture of some kind.
Marco Monroy, Friendship Bridge’s Agriculture Program Manager, has said, “As a result of the ecological imbalance, it is necessary (for our clients) to invest more in agricultural technology such as coverage greenhouses, drip irrigation systems, plant protection products, use of improved seeds, etc. This increases the cost of production.”
As Agriculture in Guatemala grows more volatile Friendship Bridge has developed training for our clients in our Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program to address these increasing challenges to the industry. These training specifically address topics such as water and soil conservation, rational use of fertilizers and pesticides, cost of production, saving for unforeseen disasters, and general risk-mitigation. We employ several clients who have gone through advanced levels of training to create demonstration plots in their own farms. These women then give training to newer clients on how to use more modern technology and methods to create more sustainable crops.
Ana Tun is one such client. In 2016, she joined Friendship Bridge, attracted to its Women’s Agriculture & Credit Training program. Although Ana grew up on farms, she knew that there were new soil and crop management technologies that she needed to learn. About a quarter of farming families depend entirely on their crops as their livelihood, so adopting the latest techniques and improving yields could make a big difference. “No other organization cares this much about farmers because agriculture can be a risky business,” Ana explains. “Nevertheless, Friendship Bridge has chosen to support us.”
On Ana’s acres, agronomists have reserved one onion field for their growing techniques, while Ana follows her traditional know-how on another field. “With 1 pound of my seeds, I can only cultivate 1 acre,” she says. “With their new techniques, I can cultivate 3 acres.”
The Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program just launched in November 2016, and so far the results are really positive. Between the implementation of the program and in April 2018, we have seen 70% of our Agriculture clients increase their growth activity and crop yield, 45% of our clients have increased their business assets, and 80% of the Agriculture clients have an increased “Empowerment Index”, which is a composite index that measures the multi-dimensional aspects of equality which includes women’s achievements along with gender-parity with men.
Friendship Bridge is also in the process of setting up an insurance program for our Agriculture clients that will protect them in the event of a natural disaster, such as earthquakes, drought, and excess rain and flooding. This type of insurance is called “Esfuerzo Seguro” and is a micro-insurance that pays out to clients based on the scale of the disaster. Almost no farmers in Guatemala have insurance for their business in the event of natural disasters, but once implemented, nearly 75% of Friendship Bridge’s Agriculture clients will be covered. Our goal is to implement this in the next few months.
As the planet continues to change, so too we must adapt. The technology exists to create a more sustainable world. We at Friendship Bridge have dedicated ourselves to give our clients the best tools for success available. And we couldn’t do it without our supporters like you!
For the months of June and July, our partner W4 (Women’s WorldWide Web) is running a campaign that will match dollar-for-dollar donations up to $25,000 to support our Advanced Training programs like our Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program. This is a great opportunity to double your impact! Please follow the link below to donate, and thank you from us here at Friendship Bridge and our clients!
Kyra Coates is the US Marketing Coordinator at Friendship Bridge. She is a passionate advocate for Women’s Empowerment and has worked for years to promote equality. Outside her Friendship Bridge working hours she is an artist and gallery owner, a mother of two fierce and fabulous daughters, and a typical Colorado outdoorsy athletic girl.
Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.