The Guatemalan Federacion de Cooperativas Agricolas is a producer and exporter organization made up of about 54 smaller coffee cooperatives. Founded in 1969, FEDECOCAGUA  has facilitated coffee exports and sales to local and international markets for their more than 20,000 small-scale farming members. Over the years, FEDECOCAGUA members have invested their hard earned Fair Trade premiums in community projects like schoolhouse restoration and water pump installations for the local health clinic. They’re now coming up with innovative new solutions to fight the recent and devastating outbreak of coffee leaf rust.
Rust, aka Roya, is caused by the fungus Hemileia Vastatrix. It infects individual coffee leaves, eventually inhibiting the plant’s ability to produce cherries. The scale of this particular outbreak has already led Guatemala to declare a state of emergency. Coffee farms in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador are among the most affected. Experts claim the outbreak could decrease coffee production for the 2013-2014 harvest by up to 50%. Small-scale farmers in these regions are particularly vulnerable to rust due to high poverty levels and the inability to invest in proper prevention techniques.
The “Anti-Rust Brigade”
At the 44th FEDECOCAGUA assembly, farmers democratically-elected to use 6 cents of their 20 cent premium to address the rust outbreak in the region. With these earmarked funds they have purchased low-cost equipment and materials to form “Anti-Rust Brigades.” After an in-depth study conducted by their technical department, this option was selected as the most effective way to reach over 20,000 smallholders.
FEDECOCAGUA’s “Anti-Rust Brigades” will employ technologically-efficient, motorized sprayers to combat the fungus in the most afflicted areas using natural botanical fungicides. This environmentally friendly product made from the neem tree will be used on conventional and certified organic coffee crops.
Collaboration Breeds Success
While FEDECOCAGUA is projected to see a 20% drop in coffee production this year due to roya, the “Anti-Rust Brigades” are working hard to curtail further loss in the upcoming years. For smallholders, coming together and sharing information and resources is the best way to face this type of threat. It allows farmers to obtain technical assistance, access to better quality products and materials, and financing to promote actionable solutions. Additionally, through things like Fair Trade, long-term contracts with buyers, and access to financing, the small-scale farmers of FEDECOCAGUA feel confident in their ability to invest now to protect their coffee for generations to come.