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Evelyn, 19 years old inspiration of Nuevo Amanacer Collective in Suchitepequez region

Women Collectives: An answer to rural area’s challenges in Guatemala.

As I arrived in Guatemala in a small Kaqchikel village in the highlands. An hour away from this village is where we find some of the best cacao in the world. Interestingly, when you ask for cacao in the village, happily a kid will run to the closest market and get you a Nestle chocolate bar– the bar of chocolate that encourages modern child slavery, deforestation of African rainforests forests, and much more. Meanwhile, close by, cacao grows in abundance in  the backyard of most households. 

I met two friends who quickly became business partners that shared the same vision: to connect consumers of cacao to the source of its production while using cacao for social change and environment advocates.  We would spend lots of time in the rural areas and find the few gems of small-scale locally owned organic farms. 

The first farm we connected with is called Nuevo Amanacer, located in the Suchitepequez region of Guatemala, and is led by a women’s collective. The leader, Odylia, inherited the land from her father and chose to care for it with a group of women. Together, they created cacao paste blocks and worked independently from men. At first, when we would speak with Odylia, she would say they were organic and environmentally friendly as it would open for them an opportunity to sell the cacao. We would find lots of trash in the forest and after digging some more, realized it was not 100% organic. We kept working with them, reinforcing the importance of good soil and sustainable methods. With time, they started to take more actions in order to meet our standards and now share with lots of pride their work. 

Odylia and her daughters are very smart women and see’s opportunities when they are in front of them. Coming from a very small and religious town, they are innovative in their way of working and the first who connected with the international world. They come from a simple way of life where the first visit we made, the collective was running their operation in a one bedroom small house with an outdoor rustic kitchen. 

Odylia, leader of Nuevo Amanecer

In rural areas, especially around the Suchitepequez region where a farmer may earn 50 quetzales a day (about $7USD a day), having a group of women leading a successful business is an incredible inspiration. After years of bringing groups of foreigners to the farm, we saw the daughters of Odylia growing and gaining confidence. Evelyn, her 19 year-old daughter, took on the role of presenter, demonstrating the process of cacao. She shared her eagerness to learn English, as well as curiosity for the Mayan Cosmovision, which is a forbidden subject in her church community. Through our last conversation, she proudly shared that in one year, the presentation would be done in English. 

Two years later, Juan, a village neighbor who we met through our explorations by walking through the area, had found an interest in the growth of organic cacao, as he saw an opportunity and market with our project. WIth the monoculture of rubber in the surrounding area, and its inconsistent value in the market, rubber is currently back up at a high value and farmers seek financial security through it. In the past, however, lots of farmers lost their farm when the rubber market lost value. WIth Juan and other farmers, we seek to offer an alternative means of abundance with a resilient agroforestry system and a market for their yield. With the case of Juan, we employed an incredible regenerative social business to offer a workshop on the steps necessary for Juan to fulfill the requirements for our project to purchase cacao from him. He worked hard for a year, until one day, he was ready to sell us his first harvest. Juan is the consequence of a neighborhood which has been inspired by good practices and saw the opportunity of growth inside a devastated land which had over 50% of the population inactive in Guatemala economy. 

Many monoculture rubber and coffee farmers have shared their interest in diversifying their practices but fear the financial repercussions. They are ready to make a change but are asking for financial and educational support. A lot of them have lived through the civil war,  the decline of the coffee and rubber market, and the racism against indegenous in the country, leaving farmers and their families with very few opportunities and pride. As I walk through the streets of a rural, outdoor Friday market, one of the vendors asks me what I do in his town. Why would I want to be in Chicacao? I understood by looking in his eyes that he meant that his town had nothing good for a foreigner to be interested in. The town he spoke about was the town that was once known in history to be the “Gateway of Cacao” in the Mayn civilization. It is located at the bottom of mountains, connecting with the pacific coast: the perfect climate for cultivation of crops, abundant in water, and even more lush as it may become. This place has no value? 

In our days, Odylia and her collective have expanded the house and built a very nice and spacious kitchen to process cacao and match their demand. Their farm can’t fulfill the need of cacao seeds they are selling and therefore, started working with neighbor farmers while still keeping the management of the project under women’s hands. Although coming from a very strict religious background, they have opened their home to Mayan Wisdom keepers and Evelyn has been invited to start her path, reconnecting with her traditions, as a wisdom keeper by elders. 

As the cacao market is one of the most criticized for its breaching of human rights around the world and deforestation state in Africa;  Odelia & Evelyn becomes an example of a sustainable approach to cacao farming and inspirational change for women, community and nature.

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