Coffee Rust Crisis Leaves Many Guatemalan Families Struggling

Iliana Miranda, 31, with her son. She and her family have lost a large slice of their income because of the Coffee Rust plaguue and they are struggling to make ends meet. Her community in Guatemala is one of those receiving support to get over the crisis. (Copyright: WFP/ Anne Valand)

The Coffee Rust Crisis is hitting families hard in the village of La Conquista. Take Iliana’s. They have switched from growing coffee to bananas. But the fruit sells for less, so the family is noticeably poorer. Iliana's husband has gone to Mexico to find work. Meanwhile, to save money, she has pulled her eldest daughter out of school. Times are tough. But support from WFP and the Government is making a difference.

GUATEMALA CITY -- Iliana Miranda Alvarez lives in the community of La Conquista, Department of San Marcos, with her five children, the youngest of which is only 17 months old. Just like her neighbours, her family’s main source of income is coffee. Iliana and her husband own a small piece of land on which they grow coffee and bananas. Yields are low and in order to cover the family´s basic expenses, Iliana’s husband has to find work over the border in Mexico. 

Coffee Rust - a silent plague
Since 2012, a plague of Coffee Rust has swept through coffee-growing communities in many parts of Central America. Coffee crop yields fell drastically during the 2012-2013 season and no change is expected for the current season. Families like Iliana's have taken a major hit. 

Initially, independent farmers were forced to find jobs in nearby coffee plantations, but these have also been hit by the plague. For a time, Iliana’s husband worked for “La Union” plantation, which was also the source of income for many other locals.

But when Coffee Rust arrived there too, Iliana’s husband was forced to go to Mexico in search of work. He found a job, but it means the family now has additional expenses, such as transportation and living away from home. This has sliced 10 percent off the family’s income compared to the previous year. At best the family income is 450 Quetzals (US$58), which doesn’t even cover a quarter of the cost of Guatemala’s Basic Food Basket- nutritional necessities, which is around 2,900 Quetzals (US$376) a month.

Bananas can’t replace coffee

Despite their efforts to earn a living from alternative crops, such as bananas and plantains, the women of La Conquista are struggling. The production and market prices of bananas and plantains are simply not enough to replace coffee. So money has to be saved somewhere.
In order to cope, Iliana this year decided not to enroll her eldest daughter in school. The family cannot afford the cost of uniforms and books. But even this saving may not be enough. Money is expected to be even tighter come May, which is the beginning of the Lean Season. Prices of staple foods such as maize rise in the local market. It will be harder for Coffee-Rust affected families to get nutritious foods.

Help for La Conquista 
Fortunately La Conquista will receive food and technical assistance from WFP and the Government of Guatemala. In exchange for work on community projects, families will receive food to supplement their incomes during the critical Lean Season. The most vulnerable families will receive food rations with maize, beans, and vegetable oil to cover 50 percent of their food needs for the next six months. WFP is working with the Ministry of Agriculture on this programme, which involves joint projects to improve soil conservation and raise crop yields. Iliana and other women in the community have already started to plant trees and bushes on their plots to prevent soil erosion. This will help to improve soil quality ahead of the technical assistance on increasing crop yields.

16,000 families receiving assistance
Besides the families in La Conquista, WFP currently supports 16,000 families affected by the Coffee Rust. They are spread over six administrative areas: Guatemala, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango, El Quiche, and San Marcos. The families to receive assistance are selected according to criteria defined by WFP. The idea is to guarantee that the neediest households get help. The criteria are:

1. High vulnerability.
2. Own a small land plot with damaged crops caused by the 2012-2013 dry season, 50% of the crops were affected during the last crop cycle, or the family does not own land at all.
3. No food stocks.
4. Children under 5 years old live in the household.
5. Women as head of the household.
6. Members with special needs, elderly people, etc.

 

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