Meeting at the CCDA’s office, holding publications of the CCDA’s 2nd national agrarian congress.

By: Lisa Rankin

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Lake Atitlan and visit BTS’s partners, the Highland Small Farmers Committee (CCDA) and the Mesoamerican Institute for Permaculture (IMAP). One of the key components of my work is to reconnect with partners after a year and a half of the inability to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. BTS has been supporting our partners through virtual accompaniment throughout the pandemic.

View of Lake Atitlan

In visiting with folks in the San Lucas Toliman region, it was very clear the economic impact of the pandemic. Prices for basic foodstuffs have doubled in some cases, with folks giving the example of eggs going from Q1 to Q2 per egg. The cheapest hospital in the area for COVID treatment is Q3000 per night, equivalent to about $470 CDN. The more expensive private hospitals are charging almost $5000 CDN a night. As a result, many people have gone into debt for trying to treat cases of COVID, either successfully or unsuccessfully. As the government of Guatemala has provided no culturally appropriate information on vaccines for communities, especially in Indigenous languages, the CCDA has filled this gap in San Luca

s Toliman by creating and paying for radio spots in the region in Tzʼutujil and Kaqchikel.

Inside of the CCDA’s new cupping centre near Lake Atitlan.

The CCDA continues to support communities defending their land and territory, in the regions of Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Quiche, and Izabal. Currently, there are 1000 arrest warrants out for CCDA members, with 4 members currently in jail in Coban, Alta Verapaz. Evictions and eviction attempts have continued, despite the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, including on October 6, 2021, against the community of Chinebal, in Izabal. Earlier this month, the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s Office inaugurated the Special Bureau Against Usurpation, which will undoubtedly criminalize communities in processes of land recovery, rather than the real “usurpers”—large landowners and private companies.

The CCDA will also be holding their third National Agrarian Congress this month, with a continued focus on agrarian reform in Guatemala. The organization has participated in various actions as of late, calling for the resignations of the Guatemalan president and Chief Public Prosecutor, Consuelo Porras.

Some exciting news for BTS coffee lovers is the creation of a new cupping centre at the CCDA’s coffee processing site! Cupping coffee is the process where producers and buyers taste coffee to determine its quality and score the batch. Now CCDA staff, buyers, and visitors have a beautiful new space to try the amazing coffee of Lake Atitlan.

The Mesoamerican Institute of Permaculture has also been extremely busy during the pandemic, only shutting their doors for a brief two-week period. IMAP supported their producers during the most difficult times of the pandemic with baskets of basic foodstuffs. Later, producers received subsidies to produce a “super atol”, a hot breakfast drink for over 700 children.

IMAP also executed a project for “all-inclusive gardens” which included both medicinal plants and vegetables. They are currently receiving students from the United States at the centre and are hosting permaculture workshops once again. Ines, the director of IMAP estimated they have trained over 15000 people in the 21 years of the institute’s existence.

(Photo 1: Amaranth, as used in the super atol project, growing along the shores of Lake Atitlan. Photo 2: Ines Cuj, the director of IMAP.)

For the coming year, there will be a renewed focus on the protection and promotion of native seeds, as well as the recovery of seeds.

Both organizations underlined the challenges regarding food sovereignty and the challenges facing small producers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the current context of the political crisis in Guatemala, the continued support and accompaniment of BTS to the CCDA and IMAP will be increasingly important.