September 29, 2012
By Dana Warren
Coffee is one of the world's most valuable legally-traded commodities. The United States alone consumed more than 3 billion pounds last year, an amount valued at 20 billion dollars. Guatemala's good soil, climate and altitude, gives the country fame for high-quality coffee. Guatemala ranks in the top 10 in terms of volume of coffee exported and much higher in overall quality. Just last year, Guatemala exported 600 million pounds of coffee (gain.fas.usda.gov).
It is clear that the production and sales of coffee plays a very important role in the Guatemalan economy. However, the quality of life of a coffee farmer has been the subject of countless development projects over the years. As Green As it Gets (AGAIG), a non-profit organization focusing on economic development and environmentally sustainable agricultural practices has become one of the leaders in improving the lives of Guatemalan coffee farmers. The organization started eight years ago, working with seven farmers outside of La Antigua. Since then, it has grown to work with more than 100 farmers in 3 co-ops located in the Antigua Valley and Huehuetenango. Throughout the organizations development, AGAIG has maintained a strong focus on the principles of transparency, empowerment, and sustainability.
AGAIG helps in all of these areas. They provide zero-interest financing for land, machinery, and coffee fruit, grants for machinery, and technical training. In addition, they have a full time staff to deal with the legal, informational, linguistic, logistical, and social barriers. The entire operation is financed by private donations and tourism which allows 100% of the profits to go directly to the farmers.
In the past 8 years, AGAIG has loaned more than $100,000 to the farmers and have experienced a 0 percent default rate on their loans. The loans originate from private donors in the U.S. and Canada and are expected to be paid back in 5 years, with a very small interest rate that is paid in coffee. AGAIG measures its success by the economic benefits it brings to the farmers, their families, and their communities.
Below is an interview conducted with Andrew Feldman, Executive Director of AGAIG:
What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
The biggest challenge we face is managing such a diverse array of responsibilities. Between facilities and agriculture in Guatemala, logistics in foreign countries, marketing and sales, and relations with supporters and customers abroad, there is a lot of hard work that goes into getting coffee from the farmers' hand to the customers cup.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the direct impact of the work that we do. When I talk to a farmer's kid about the school that he/she can attend because his/her parent has the money to pay tuition, or see a concrete house with real doors replace a cornstalk house with sheets in the doorways, or hear the relief in a farmer's voice as he/she finds out that coffee income means less worry over family finances, I feel a fulfillment that validates the work I do and gives me the motivation to continue.
What do you see for the future of AGAIG?
Our current plans focus on enhancing our coffee programs, as that's where we can have the largest and most direct impact. We are planning an expansion of processing facilities in Guatemala, while at the same time finding new customers and expanding into new markets abroad. My vision is for us to be able to increase the impact we have substantially over the next 5 years. Ultimately, I hope that we can build a respected brand that benefits farmers throughout Guatemala for years to come.
Dana is a Frontier Market Scout working for Pomona Impact, a group of impact investors. She graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in International Studies with a concentration on environmental studies and a focus on Latin America. You can read more about her work on her blog.