Monday, January 31, 2011

Yellow or red coffee beans: Which one should I pick?

We arrived at CADECH – Cooperativa Adelante Chanmagua - offices in Chanmagua town, some kms away from Esquipulas (southeast of Guatemala) and close to El Salvador and Honduras borders. After a delicious lunch – I like Guatemalan food – CADECH reps gave us a presentation on the coop operations and challenges. CADECH members combine coffee growing with reforestation efforts. Then it was time for field visits.

It was busy in Freddy’s 1.75 ha coffee plantation. It is harvest period and there are about 10 seasonal workers. I wanted to try picking coffee. But there are green, red, and yellow coffee beans... and now?

Freddy, his sons, workers and CADECH reps in the coffee plantation

Today I learned Freddy and coffee farmers mixed both sorts of coffee in one plantation. Colour does not affect either the quality or flavour. Every sort has its strengths and weaknesses just as it happens with many things in life: it is not only the outside, but the inside what counts.

In another coffee plantation I was welcomed by a nice perfume coming from white flowers of orange trees that are planted to give shadow to the coffee plants. Some meters further there were pines planted also for shadow and reforestation purposes. This is quite of unique in the Central American region.

Oranges tasted good.

Sunny snacks

It was a long trip. Not because the distance, but because of the road. Let’s be fair: the road is in good condition, but it is steep and has many curves. Deep in my heart I did not mind it much because I enjoyed watching the landscape: from the Altiplano to the dry area – where we will visit a project partner tomorrow – and again up to the tropical forest.

Guess what? During a stop, Carlos, the country manager, opened a box of fruits and local nuts snacks: Maya Mix by Alimentos Campestres - our project partner!

The snacks tasted better because they’re produced using solar energy. Everybody in the group loved them. It’s a shame we cannot buy them in Europe, the US or Canada because they would become very popular in not time. Is anybody looking for business idea?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting started

At noon the last participants arrived from Antigua. As early birds, they spent some days in this city and around Atitlan Lake.

First lunch together in Guatemala city

The introductory meeting took longer than expected. After going over the agenda and practical and logistic matters, Oikocredit’s regional and country offices reps gave presentations on the operations with a focus on environmental matters. Andreas, an Oikocredit member from Germany living in Guatemala as journalist, gave some insights into the country from tips for intercultural relations to the concept and identity as indigenous.

The day closed with a dinner at a restaurant close to the hotel. It was nice Guatemalan food, which I have started to appreciate very much.

I look much forward to hit the road tomorrow. Can I have another tamal, please?

Oikocredit Guatemala and regional staff (Photo A. Vargas)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The office in Zona 10

My day started pretty early. I could not sleep any longer because of the jetlag, so I decided to find out if the adapter I brought works (which was happily the case) and check my emails.

At lunch time, I met with Carlos and Augusto of the Guatemala office, and Eduard from Costa Rica. As we drive to the Oikocredit office I started discovering the less sparkling Guatemala City. This city hosts a significant part of the 56.2% of the population living below the national poverty line. 36 years of civil war and a highly unequal income distribution - the richest decile comprises over 42% of Guatemala's overall household income or consumption - makes Guatemala the 10th poorest countries in Latin America.

The office is located at the very end of the Zona 10 – between a wealthier and an emerging area - seems symbolic to Oikocredit’s role to promote global justice by challenging people, churches and others to share their resources through socially responsible investments and by empowering disadvantaged people with credit.

This was the last preparation meeting before the Study Tour 2011 Guatemala officially starts on Sunday, but the first time we meet altogether in person.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Climate change

It was almost 4:00am (Dutch time) when I was ready to go to sleep. I woke up very early because of the rain. First thing I thought was: "Oh, my…! It is the dry season, but it is raining a lot". And then I found out a study tour participant did not arrive yesterday as planned. Her flight was cancelled because of the snow storm in New York, which I’ve learned has been the worst in years.

Lately there have been natural disasters and weather irregularities affecting people, communities and even whole nations in Central America and worldwide. More tropical storms and hurricanes, extreme cold temperatures, sever droughts, and heavy rains are continuously reported in the media. We continuously hear this wake up call, but… are we taking it seriously? Not only individuals, but also sectors and institutions are accountable for climate protection, fostering environmental-friendly and sustainable practices. Truth is that everybody can put its two cents before there’s a point of no return. How many of us are doing it actually?

A windy Guatemala city (from the hotel)

As I think of the project partners to be visited in the coming days - fair trade, organic coops, sustainable timber company, MFIs working in rural areas, and agri-processing companies using clean energy, - and many others that could have qualified for the study tour, it is clear Oikocredit has taken its role and responsibility as social investor seriously and long before "green", 'environmental-friendly", and "sustainable" was a household name in the among financiers in the microfinance sector. One example is the Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean region, which is one of the leading Oikocredit regions in financing project partners with practices aiming to reducing or lowering their impact on the environmental criteria.

Rain has not stopped yet. Where did I put my umbrella?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A study tour to the Maya world

After closing my suitcase, I realized it has only been 9 months since I went to Uganda for the Study Tour 2010. Because of the positive feedback, a new study tour was planned in 2011 with a focus on Oikocredit’s financing to project partners actively working on environmental issues and supporting vulnerable groups in rural areas.

Selecting Guatemala was not difficult. The country's portfolio includes project partners working in rural areas supporting indigenous groups and women and other partners involved in sustainable natural resources management, use of clean energy, and fair trade.

Guatemala is a well-known touristic destination because of its rich nature and Maya culture. At the same time, this beautiful country has a highly unequal income distribution, a tragic past of a civil war, and yet the percentage population living under the poverty level is striking, especially in rural areas.

Next Sunday Along with 15 investors and members of Oikocredit, the Guatemala team and staff from the regional office in Costa Rica, I will start a new journey to the hidden - for the regular tourist – Maya world, the real Guatemala. It is in these impoverish areas where in spite of the many challenges, Oikocredit continues financing grassroots MFIs, fair trade coops and environmental-friendly companies, which bring hope and opportunities through credit to the people and the environment.

It is time to witness again how the funds from our members and investors contribute to improve the lives of many Guatemalans in rural areas.