Strategies for International Development

February 2021 Newsletter

Dear Friends of SID,

In 2020, we helped poor farmers confront the coronavirus as well as increase their productivity, price, and income. In Guatemala, we also helped them confront Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

Confronting the Coronavirus

At the onset of the global pandemic, there was a lot of confusion and misinformation about the coronavirus in the rural communities where we work. Farmers in some of these communities barred access to any outsider.

We were welcomed in because we began each visit by teaching the practices that prevent the spread of the virus, such as washing the hands frequently, not touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes, wearing a mask, and social distancing. We helped farmers make masks and mixtures of alcohol and water to disinfect commonly touched surfaces. We also taught them how to detect the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and where to get tested and treated.

Our regular technical assistance continued as well. We spent the first half hour of each visit on confronting the coronavirus and then an hour and a half on the practices for increasing productivity, price, and income from coffee. Cases in the communities have been low and deaths infrequent. When vaccines become available, we will also instruct farmers on how and where to get them.

Conserving the Land

In Guatemala, farmers grow corn and beans for food and coffee for income on mountainsides as steep as 50 to 60 degrees. The only study on similar mountainside farms was conducted in nearby Honduras, and researchers calculated that soil loss was 92 tons per hectare (2.47 acres) in years of heavy rain. Hurricanes are becoming more destructive because the warming atmosphere permits them to hold more water and increases their velocity. Hurricanes Eta and Iota were more destructive than hurricanes in previous years, and the heavy rains knocked the green coffee cherries from the trees and caused landslides.

Farmers are becoming more aware of the need to conserve their land, and they are beginning to do so. Fortunately, coffee requires shade trees that keep the coffee cherries from ripening too quickly, and the roots of the shade trees and coffee trees hold the soil. SID received a grant of 11,000 shade trees from Guatemala’s national hydroelectric program and 9,000 trees from the national forestry program. Farmers planted the trees on 132 acres of coffee plots, and they also terraced 109 acres of land to slow the rush of rainwater down the mountainside. We help farmers graduate from poverty, and this includes conserving the land upon which their livelihood depends.

Looking Ahead

SID’s regional approach gives 18,380 coffee-producing families a chance to graduate from poverty. Farmers defined 28 practices they need to adopt; local officials and teachers are promoting them; we conduct fairs to demonstrate them; and we provide assistance in communities that agree to adopt all of them. In the first year of the program, the general population’s knowledge and adoption of the 28 practices doubled. In the communities adopting all the practices, farmers increased their productivity by 47%, their husking and sales directly to exporters from 0% to 21% of the harvest, and their income from $106 to $293 a year from coffee.

75% of the world’s poor are small farmers trying to make the transition from subsistence farming to successful commercial farming, but less than 15% have access to technical assistance. The regional approach is working, and we have begun designing similar projects for coffee farmers in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Uganda, and dairy farmers in Malawi.

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