March 24, 2016

As K’ekchi’ farmers struggle with coffee fungus in Guatemala, EMM worker makes partnerships for solutions

Written by  Emily Jones
A mountain trail leading to the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church in Rosario, Guatemala. EMM worker Ted Smoker is working to link K’ekchi’ coffee farmers with coffee farming education, which can help farmers defeat the roya coffee fungus. Ten K’ekchi’ coffee farming families attend the church, between them producing a total of about 20,000 pounds of coffee per year. A mountain trail leading to the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church in Rosario, Guatemala. EMM worker Ted Smoker is working to link K’ekchi’ coffee farmers with coffee farming education, which can help farmers defeat the roya coffee fungus. Ten K’ekchi’ coffee farming families attend the church, between them producing a total of about 20,000 pounds of coffee per year. Photo provided by Ted Smoker.

SAN PEDRO CARCHÁ, Guatemala – Like many small-scale Guatemalan coffee farmers, K’ekchi’ coffee growers have been plagued in recent years by a destructive Central American coffee fungus known as “la roya.” Hoping to promote solutions, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) worker Ted Smoker has been helping to link K’ekchi’ farmers with education opportunities through Anacafé, a nonprofit organization that represents thousands of coffee farmers throughout Guatemala. Leaders from four K’ekchi’ villages have begun representing their communities at monthly Anacafé coffee farming trainings. They plan to deliver the new farming knowledge, including methods for fungus prevention, to farmers at home in order to increase agricultural and economic development in their communities.

Along with his family, Smoker moved to Guatemala in June 2015 to begin work in business and agricultural development among the K’ekchi’ people. Through Red Paz (“Peace Network”), an agency based out of the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church that promotes economic development in rural communities, Smoker met K’ekchi’ community developers who envisioned healthy K’ekchi’ coffee farms and an expanded market for K’ekchi’ coffee.

Smoker partnered with these K’ekchi’ community developers to connect with leaders from four K’ekchi’ villages, and invited them to attend Anacafé trainings. As these leaders attend monthly educational sessions and bring solutions back to their villages, Smoker is working alongside Red Paz and Anacafé to spread coffee farming education even further by helping to provide training sessions in the K'ekchi' language and by making plans to travel to more remote villages with coffee farming education and demonstrations.

Smoker says that after years of oppression and abuse due to government and business interests, many K’ekchi’ villages now have a tendency to be insular. However, he thinks that the connection with Anacafé, if it continues, will be a great benefit to K’ekchi’ farmers. He believes that many simple changes to K’ekchi’ coffee farms could have great effects on yield and quality, and spreading coffee farming education is the first step. He also hopes to support K’ekchi’ coffee farmers in achieving a fairer and better market for their products. “It is clear that simply sharing the information is causing real change and providing hope to the discouraged,” said Smoker.