Guatemala has a long history of traceability and differentiation on the basis of quality. This is partly because individual farms in Guatemala traditionally processed their own coffee and partly thanks to Anacafé’s highly successful strategy of marketing Guatemalan coffee, highlighting regional differences. Nevertheless, Guatemalan coffee producers are among some of the poorest in the world (Haye 2019), and more than 30% of coffee farmers in the country live in poverty.
Marta Dalton, Guatemalan Green Buyer and Sixth Generation Coffee Farmer. Image courtesy of Coffee Bird (@thecoffeebird).
We spoke with Marta Dalton, the founder of the Guatemalan coffee sourcing company Coffee Bird, to discuss some of the challenges that farmers face and the complex issues involved in buying coffee ethically in Guatemala.
The biggest challenge for Guatemalan farmers during 2020 has been COVID-19. Dalton says, ‘For a farm that requires pickers from other areas or regions, the cost of picking coffee is going to be a lot more expensive because of COVID.’
‘Some farms have foreseen that. One farm in particular hired a permanent group of people from October full time through the harvest, but that’s kind of unusual,’ she explains. ‘Usually, farms hire people from a certain region and bring in a busful of people, but now, because of social distancing, they can only bring half that number.’ This situation is exacerbated by the fact that pickers invariably travel with their entire family in tow. ‘No one is leaving their kids behind, because there is no one to care for them. If you’re going, you’re going with your whole family.’
To make matters worse, Guatemala was hit by two major hurricanes in 2020, causing landslides and creating widespread damage in some communities.
Coffee prices have increased this year. According to Dalton, farmers are hoping for higher prices. ‘Given the global impact of the pandemic on coffee roasteries and cafes,