GUATEMALA Cooperativo Chichupac
The Coffee Producers Association of Chichupac (APCC) was established in 1982, just after the conclusion of Guatemala’s horrific, 36-year-long civil war. The group remains small: currently it is composed of just 28 members who come from around 13 different local families, plus around 50 ‘independent’ neighbours who deliver their coffee to APCC’s wet mill. All families, apart from two, belong to the Maya Achí community, and Spanish is their second language.
Baja Verapaz was one of the region’s most hard hit by the civil war. Further complications to livelihood came about due to the Chixoy Dam Project in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. To complete construction, the government completed voluntary and forcible relocations of dam-affected communities from the fertile agricultural valleys to the much harsher surrounding highlands. When hundreds of residents refused to relocate, or returned after finding the conditions of resettlement villages were not what the government had promised, these men, women, and children were kidnapped, raped, and massacred by paramilitary and military officials. More than 440 Maya Achí were killed in the village of Río Negro alone, and the string of extrajudicial killings that claimed up to 5,000 lives between 1980 and 1982 became known as the Río Negro massacres.
The region continues to suffer the consequences of continued violence and subjugation. Villages remain remote and poorly connected to road networks. Communities lack access to many key educational and medical services. APCC decided that one way out of poverty and marginalisation was coffee and collective action.
As mentioned, the cooperative started in 1982 with very humble roots. In 1991, the group decided to accept an offer of a grant and loan from an NGO called the Centro de Integración Familiar (CIF), a Catholic organisation dedicated to helping poor rural families. They built a small, community wet mill which is used to process members’ coffee and – for a small fee – that of other, independent growers in the surrounding villages. Over the years have paid off the loan with profits from these activities.
In 2003, female members of the group decided to diversify further. They set up their own, parallel company and began roasting, grinding and packing the group’s coffee. They market the coffee in local markets and shops in Guatemala City under the name Café de Chichupac, their registered trademark.
In 2006 and 2008 they placed, under the name Finca Chichupac, at position #16 and #20 (respectively), in the Guatemala Cup of Excellence Competition. Very sadly, not to long after that, the group was hit very hard by coffee leaf rust and experienced some managerial issues that held them back from exporting again until 2018-19.
In 2016 they began working closely with Anacafé (Guatemalan coffee’s governing body), government institutions, and international NGOs, receiving training and economic support to improve their coffee plots and milling facilities. This work continues until today.
In addition to coffee, they farm small plots of maize, black beans, tomatoes and vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, beet and radishes. Avocados, bananas and oranges grow on trees around their houses, and many families have a cow or two, pigs and chickens and turkeys. These subsistence activities are crucial to complementing the income earned from their coffee.