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A look behind the scenes of the Huehuetenango project (Guatemala)

Marlon del Valle is a technician and member of the Pur Projet team as part of the Huehuetenango project in Guatemala. In this hilly area, coffee production is the main source of income. But those lands are located on steep slopes strongly marked by erosion. Since 2014, in partnership with Nespresso, Pur Projet assists cooperatives of coffee producers in this region as they wish to develop a high quality coffee sector through the implementation of agroforestry systems. Plantations of trees within the plots will allow regeneration and soil fixation, preservation of biodiversity, improved productivity and quality of coffee, diversification of income for local communities. Marlon coordinates the technical support in the field and is himself a coffee producer participating to the project. Interview.

Can you introduce the project?

The agroforestry program was launched with several producers’ organizations: ADESC, UPC, ASCAFCA, ASDEFLOR, Comal, and ADIESTO ASOPERC. These two latter organizations are composed of small coffee farmers with an average of 75 producers per association. They are engaged in the production of AAA quality coffee, Nespresso quality standard, which is exported to European countries. In 2014 (wave 1), 50 000 trees, forest species and fruit trees were planted. In 2015 (wave 2), 150,000 fruit and forest trees will be planted with two main objectives well defined: generate environmental services and contribute to the economic development of local organizations and coffee producers of the Huehuetenango area, Guatemala.

Why is it important to plant trees?

Trees provide many benefits, such as carbon sequestration. Most human beings are just cutting trees without ever reforesting, especially on the border between fields and forests, where many farmers cut forested areas to plant coffee and other crops. Planting trees also helps prevent runoff and soil erosion, and help conserve water sources.

How many producers involved in this project?

For the first wave of planting 190 coffee farmers are involved in the project. For the second wave, we have worked with 750 men and women coffee producers from different municipalities in the county of Huehuetenango.

How many trees will be planted ?

For the second wave of planting 150,000 trees will be planted : there will be forest species such as cedar, mahogany, white wood, pine, cypress, and fruit trees such as avocado, tangerine, orange, guava .

Could you tell us about a tree that is particularly meaningful to you?

If we talk of forest species, the most important for me would cedar ( Cedrela odorota ) because it generates a large amount of biomass that will help regenerate agricultural soils. It maintains adequate soil moisture that promotes coffee yield. It has a fast growth and adaptability that make it ideal. Amongst fruit species, there is the avocado ( Persea amaricana ) highly demanded in the market which makes it a highly profitable crop .

At what stage of the project are we? What has been done to date?

We are at the most rewarding phase of the project as we deliver the plants to associations, having made inspection visits to different plots of 750 participating producers. During these visits, we found different GPS data, checked the weather, soil, altitude, what tree species are present.

What are the next planned activities?

After the distribution of trees, we will monitor two steps: the second monitoring of the first wave of plantation and the first monitoring of the second wave of planting. We visit each producer and will again be counting trees to see if they are suitable or not. We will record the mortality rate, which will give us the necessary experience to improve the project. Monitoring helps us assess if producers are properly planting trees. Training is conducted before the distribution with all producers, we have reviewed the different planting models (there are 3), and planting techniques (holes, planting distance …).

How do you think the project will impact on the lives of producers?

The project is of great importance for producers and communities because it aims at improving their conditions of life, thanks to fruit trees. So that in the future they can diversify their income with the sale of fruits and timber.

What is your vision of agriculture for the future?

I want to help create a sustainable agriculture, where each production process is carried out in a manner that is respectful of the environment. The resources used at each stage of the production must be optimized to ensure efficient performance. We must make good use of pesticides, we must also promote organic farming and the establishment of agroforestry plots to insure the income diversification of families.

What brings you the support of companies like Nespresso?

Such support contributes directly and indirectly to the creation of jobs in Guatemala. It also improves the process of commercialisation of coffee: of all the coffee market actors in Guatemala, Nespresso is one that rewards the producers for the quality of the coffee produced, which is also one of the best on the market. This benefits the producers who work in a more entrepreneurial way to get coffee that meets the quality standards required by Nespresso.

Do you have a story to share?

Personally, I am happy as an employee of Pur Projet in Guatemala: the project is set up in a very healthy and friendly environment, and we can see the satisfaction of producers. The training, the elaborate design of the project, and the monitoring are all very technical, but they made the success of this project and the objectives have been met to the satisfaction of producers and Pur Projet. I wish that the project continues to support more coffee producers. And it is particularly important to plant trees in Guatemala, a country characterized by many micro-climates.

Photos: Christian Lamontagne/Pur Projet

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