Fixing up the land, little by little

By Tjarda Muller
Lucas Izapo, like all the members of the cooperative, only grows organic coffee. In a landslide caused by Hurricane Stan, he lost a third of his coffee crop and all of the corn harvest.

The last day of our trip we went to the La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto cooperative. The name means 'The Voice That Cries Out in the Desert.' It is located in Solola, the area that was hardest hit by Stan. The cooperative's harvest was down by 45 percent, from seven containers to four. Eighty-nine of the 140 members had been directly affected by the landslides the storm caused, which destroyed their plots of land.

"One part was washed out by the landslides," cooperative member Lucas Izapo told us. "Before Stan, the land was thick with coffee plants, everything was covered with coffee plants. When the landslide came, it took the coffee bushes with it. The hill was left bald, and covered in rock.

"Now I am fixing up my land, little by little. But it's not going to take a year to fix it, it'll take three, four, or more years before this part is back to normal. Because it isn't easy to build walls. This year I planted living fences with Yucca and Bower Vine. And little by little I am going to make a stone wall, to protect the coffee from the rain that falls [each winter]."

The cooperative was able to support its members with the donation of new coffee plants to replace the older ones, organic fertilizer, and $62 for each member. They needed to make this investment to care for the plants they still had left.

They cooperative also repaired the channel that drains the coffee washing stations. This was essential to renew their fair trade certification; without this certification their income would drop even more.

Like other places in Guatemala, farmers in Solola lost much of their corn. Lucas said it has been difficult to feed his family of 10.

"I had to work even harder to sustain us, because I didn't have my harvest which was lost the year before. I lost 160 to 200 pounds from that corn harvest. So I had to plant tomato and onion and sell it to buy the corn that I used to grow for myself. Little by little I was able to buy the corn—100 pounds, another 100 pounds—because I grew these other crops."