Last week we visited Lake Atitlan and two of BTS’s partners, the Mesoamerican Institute for Permaculture (IMAP) and the Highland Small Farmers Committee (CCDA). During the visit, we had the chance to sit, connect over cups of Cafe Justicia, and discuss recent success and challenges with both IMAP and the CCDA.

Goyo Sosof, at the Mesoamerican Institute for Permaculture, demonstrating a sustainable way to prepare seedlings inside of a toilet paper roll. The cardboard roll will decompose as the plant grows large enough to be planted.

Goyo Sosof and Lisa Rankin walking towards the shore of Lake Atitlan along a newly improved walking path created to conserve the natural environment of the lake.

At IMAP, Goyo took us on a tour, sharing ongoing projects such as the seedling area and the banana gray water filtration circle. Goyo also showed us new projects like a small fish pond and a large undertaking being supported by many volunteers and IMAP supporters closer to the water.

IMAP’s neighbors along the lake have begun privatizing the land and developing the banks along of the lake by clearing away forest and Indigenous plants in favor of an unobstructed view of the water. This deforestation and limitation of public access puts the health of the community at risk around the lake as it is replicated across communities. This risk increases as the water level of the lake drops and the effects of global climate change worsen.

In response, IMAP has refocused efforts to conserve the local environment. They have begun a project to improve walking paths by the water and to plant more Indigenous trees in the hopes that more tourists can come to appreciate the native birds and flora of the lake.

While visiting IMAP we also spoke with Ines Cuj, the director of IMAP, who explained that after the downturn in activities created by the pandemic, the institute was beginning to hold more trainings and host more visits for local Guatemalan groups. In April, they will be hosting a training for productive gardens in small urban spaces followed by a permaculture certification training May 2nd – 15th. Despite this good news, Ines also shared about the increase in youth migration out of surrounding communities. As a result, IMAP has been working to ensure that youth have access to various supports in order to become the next generation of leaders for the community. For example, a new collaboration on the horizon is the Pulsera Project, which seeks to support the costs of students’ education by training them to make bracelets which can be sold abroad.

Inside the Casa de Semillas at IMAP where the native seeds are saved and housed in new clay pots gifted from supporters of IMAP in Rabinal.

Following our visit with IMAP, we also visited the beneficio and offices of the CCDA. Members of the CCDA are also very concerned about the effects of climate change on the lake and the surrounding communities.

A recent study reports that in only a few years, some communities around the lake could experience conditions similar to the dry corridor which is marked by a severe reduction in rainfall. Communities in the Central American Dry Corridor experience crop failure as a result of the dry conditions caused by climate change, resulting in hunger and increased need for out-migration.

Bags of coffee to be shipped after being processed at the CCDA cooperative.

And it seems as if the report isn’t only a predictive omen for the future. Although the price of coffee has increased significantly this year, the small farmers contributing to the CCDA’s cooperative barely broke even because overall farmers experienced a concerning 50% decrease in yield. 

While visiting the CCDA, we spent time with David and Julisa who welcomed us to the CCDA’s beautiful new cuping facility. The CCDA hopes to train more members on coffee preparation and further develop the facility to include a cafe where they can welcome tourists. There, Julisa prepared some of the CCDA’s Cafe Justicia coffee.

David and Julisa at the CCDA’s new cupping facility. On the table in front of them are coffee taken during the different stages of coffee production, from parchment, to gold, roast, and ground. 

Julisa measuring the correct amount of ground Cafe Justicia to the right weight as determined by the coffee to water ratio.