While one-third of Guatemala’s population is employed in the agriculture sector, many small-scale producers have limited access to the tools necessary to establish profitable enterprises. This includes the country’s spice producers, who have been hampered by longstanding price volatility alongside challenges such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Heifer International works with spice producers through its Green Business Belt (GBB) project, which, paired with traditional extension services, supports producers in building resilience to market fluctuations. As a result of the initiative, 62% of project households were able to close the gap between their actual income and Living Income benchmarks.
One-third of Guatemalans are employed in the agricultural sector. Many producers are Indigenous peoples concentrated in remote, rural communities that lack access to basic services. As a result, farmers and producers earn unsustainably low incomes that fuel an endless cycle of poverty.
While price volatility has always been a major challenge for producers of cardamom and other cash crop spices in Guatemala, in recent years, producers have also faced climate change and extreme weather events, crop failures, high inflation, and the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which significantly impacted productivity and disrupted basic needs. Most small-scale producers cannot access the innovations and information they need to ensure a productive, profitable, and sustainable future.
To sustainably increase producers’ incomes, Heifer International has engaged in an evidence-based programming strategy delivered alongside traditional extension services and training to support spice producers to improve their yields, diversify their crops when appropriate, and find opportunities to market and sell their products at the best possible time under the most optimal conditions.
Heifer’s Green Business Belt (GBB) project works with 37 communities and 36 farmer-owned agribusinesses across Alta Verapaz in north central Guatemala. The project aims to support Guatemalan spice producers to develop profitable spice and agroforestry enterprises while improving forest management across 16,000 acres of biodiverse land. Through the project’s activities, enterprises focused on spice value chains will become stronger and more inclusive as Heifer partners with private and public sector entities to promote market systems and value chains that increase producers’ incomes.
Working in communities with low access to markets or credit, Heifer’s technical teams and local partners support producers, cooperatives, and community organizations that are committed to the project, have land to grow crops, and are willing to implement techniques to improve their spice production. Through training tailored to the local context, producers learn about agroforestry systems and good agricultural practices, while addressing specific problems like crop management, so they can improve their production in an environmentally sound way. Furthermore, Heifer’s Values-Based Holistic Community Development training helps stakeholders strengthen social capital within their communities, enabling them to improve how they work together to run their businesses and collectively capitalize on their newly gained entrepreneurial skills.
Technicians also ensure the project’s stakeholders sustain their success by building capacity in financial activities such as savings, credits, market analysis, and value chain analysis to manage and grow their businesses. As a result of the comprehensive training, producers, cooperatives, and community organizations have increased their incomes, in addition to improved crop management, increased access to new markets, and increased the utilization of market information and tools to enhance decision-making and business planning.
Marta Botzoc Teyul is one of Adira Cooperative’s leaders. The cooperative, located in the municipalities of Raxruhá and Chisec in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, has 926 active members who are working to increase their income with Heifer’s support. Teyul and other members are focused on achieving this by improving the quality and quantity of their products, as well as diversifying the kinds of spices they grow in the lush rainforest.
“[Access to information] is extremely important because we understand how the market dynamics work, in prices, volumes, and qualities,” Teyul said. “Knowing the market, we will make better decisions in terms of product commercialization, qualities required by the market, and above all, crop management.”
Stronger administrative support can also create unexpected opportunities for producers. For instance, the cooperative is in the process of applying for commercial organic certifications that will further increase demand — and therefore the price — of their spices.
Florinda Aracely Tzib Maaz is a community promoter who has been working to improve conditions for women producers in her community.
“Because we are women, many times they do not believe that we are capable of maintaining our land,” Maaz said. “Most of the women in our community have been the ones who have worked their land, [doing] the cleanings and [applying] the organic fertilizers.”
Through her work, she’s learned the power of aggregation as well as knowing what a fair price is for her crops so that she can walk away from a bad deal.
“If we have nowhere to sell and we give it to the intermediaries, they earn a lot more than the price we give them with our product,” Maaz added. “That is why we are organizing ourselves to gather our harvest and sell it together so that we can get better payment for our product.”
Based on a 2022 Heifer survey, 62% of the households of the GBB have closed the gap between a Living Income Benchmark and actual income. While some farmers surveyed benefited from a short-term bump in cardamom prices, the training they received on production cycles and market analysis ensures they can be successful long-term. With access to data and pricing information, farmers can determine how price fluctuations will impact their overall income. This knowledge enables farmers to more easily identify opportunity costs of income fluctuations and adapt their planning for a more stable and sustainable future.