CCDA- Comite Campesino Del Altiplano- Highland Committee of Small Farmers
About 9 am we left Guatemala City driving indirectly for 3 hours to the area of Solola, near Lake Atitlan. Enroute whole fresh coconuts were purchased for about 70 cents each, the milk being sipped through a straw.
First stop: small town of Quixaya, the office of the CCDA. We were seated at tables, placed in a circle in a large open room.
The concept of the CCDA is to “live well” (or, el buen vivir).
Small farmers and small producers formed this organization in 1981 to protect against economic strangulation. Focusing on farming on small tracts of land, the CCDA functions in 13 provinces in a country in which a huge percentage of children die of poverty before age 5; over half of the children who survive being malnourished. There are 32 people working in the office, others in the coffee processing plant, others in education; 36,000 people are associated with the CCDA.
The 1996 signing of the Peace Accords included a land fund to study and plan land re-distribution. The government did areal surveys of the whole country to identify unused land. Needless to say, in a country in which 22 families own 90% of the land, and 61% of the population of 15 million live in rural areas, there was no sane re-distribution. Instead, people who tried to purchase land under this system were forced into a cycle of debt that created horrible conflicts within communities.
The CCDA provides seeds, organic compost and chickens to help farmers feed their families directly. In provides classes and workshops year round, teaching organic agricultural practices.
There are 3 aspects of the CCDA’s program:
– coffee processing
-beekeeping for honey
-macadamia nut processing
The CCDA functions with trucks which pick up coffee beans in the communities in which they are grown. At this stage, the beans are called coffee cherries because of the reddish husks. Packed in 100 pound sacks, which after processing, will yeild 25 pounds of dried beans, the coffee cherries are weighed and the farmers are paid cash at this time:
75 quetzales (about $10.00 Canadian) per 100 pounds of coffee cherries.
Under the most propitious working conditions, it will have taken several hours to pick up this amount. From November through February the coffee cherries ripen continuously and there is daily pick-up by truck as the beans must be processed within 24 hours of picking.
At the coffee processing plant, the cherries are left to ferment for about 12-14 after being washed and having their outside husks removed. Previously, the remaining beans were dried, at great length, in the open air. Now the plant has a much faster system: an wood-fired drier which processes 40 bags of beans at a time, each bag containing 100 pounds of beans. Organic compost, formed by the husks and eaten by worms is returned to the farmers.
The export price of these dried beans which will be shipped to Canada fluctuate with the market; it is approximately 700 quetzales (or $98.00 Canadian per 100 pounds). (ed. note: the CCDA sells its coffee in the Maritimes through Just Us! Coffee Roasters and can be found on shelves as the Breaking the Silence blend).
Additionally the CCDA:
- works with families to build their own homes;
- has built schools and provided clean water from coffee and honey production
- addresses issues of cooperation and rights between women and men
- with advice and accompaniment , helps individuals and small groups of people navigate the bureaucratic process of buying small tracts of farmland
We saw a beautiful photo, taken in 2012, showing first time land-owners holding up their deeds. Although a number of people who have been associated with the CCDA have been murdered, the struggle continues.
Bare Minimum Required to keep a family of four alive:
a) sane estimate: 127 quetzales a day or $18 Canadian
b) Guatemalan minimum wage: 67 quetzales a day or $9.00 Canadian
c) the reality of many families working on plantations: 27 quetzales a day or $3.6 Canadian
Coffee growers connected to the CCDA earn about 20% more than other coffee growers.