In Southern Mexico, Coffee Co-ops Bring Better Lives
Traveling up a mountain in the back of a pickup truck, on a bumpy road of hairpin turns, I feel dwarfed by the towering Mexican elm trees looming out of the evening mist. As we pass homes scattered among the coffee bushes that dominate the landscape, El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve feels a world away from the urban sprawl of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, where I have spent much of the past week.
It’s here that I met Rosa Guzmán, the daughter of a coffee farmer living in one of the small mountaintop villages in Chiapas. Several years ago, a local coffee cooperative called Comon Yaj Noptic constructed a computer school nearby. With startup funding from Starbucks and Conservation International’s Verde Ventures program — and computers donated by the state government — the school gives students access to online courses and tutors, allowing them to complete high school without leaving the area.
Rosa is the first in her family to attend high school. "If my father hadn't given me this opportunity, I'd be at home working … grinding coffee, washing clothes," she says.
Verde Ventures is an investment fund that provides support for small- and medium-sized businesses that contribute to healthy ecosystems and human well-being. Since 2003, Starbucks has provided funding for Verde Ventures conservation projects, and to date, the program has benefited more than 30 coffee enterprises, affecting over 14,000 families in five countries, and conserving more than 46,000 acres of land.
The program works with cooperatives like Comon Yaj Noptic because co-ops allow farmers to share resources, combine their coffee yields and even obtain a higher price on the market. Plus, when the unthinkable happens — like the hurricanes and droughts that mark our changing climate — the cooperative is there to help its members pick up the pieces.
I heard stories like Rosa’s from several coffee farmers I met on my trip to Chiapas. As the editor of Conservation International’s blog, I spend most of my time in Arlington, Virginia, reviewing stories sent from around the world. This was the first time I’d had the opportunity to see the impacts our partnerships have on the ground first-hand — to actually meet people whose lives had been improved by our programs. It was truly an inspiring experience.
When I returned from my trip, I chronicled many of the personal accounts I had gathered for Conservation International’s new storytelling platform, Team Earth. Check out more stories and video interviews in “Chiapas: Coffee, Climate and Conservation in Mexico.”