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Technical cooperation stories

Elvia Monzón, a natural leader who promotes the presence of women in coffee growing in Guatemala

Elvia creció en San Antonio Huista, y desde la infancia se adiestró en el cultivo del café.
Elvia grew up in San Antonio Huista, and learned as a child how to grow coffee.   

Guatemala City, 10 August 2020 (IICA). On her 50th birthday, Elvia Monzón received a gift she will never forget: a roaster that she had dreamt of so much for the Integrated Cooperative of Small Farmers of Rancho Viejo, an organization that she heads in Huista, Guatemala.

 “It was an unforgettable coincidence”, said the coffee farmer. “On my birthday, February 19, PROCAGICA surprised us with a roaster. I was looking at this lovely machine, but wondering how we were going to use it”.

But for Elvia, a natural leader, that was a minor problem. The roaster arrived just before the Covid-19 pandemic exploded, so the lockdown halted the training in how to use it. “We learnt by ourselves, by observing the roasters on their first visit, and the coffee was excellent”.

The coffee roaster is part of the plan for strengthening farmer organizations that the Central American Integrated Coffee Rust Management Program (PROCAGICA) is promoting to improve their inclusion in the coffee chain. The roaster will allow them to add value and market their product at a better price.

Elvia grew up in San Antonio Huista, and learned as a child how to grow coffee.   

 “My father planted coffee, and as early as 7 years old, he took me to help harvest. In those days, people didn’t come from other places; the farmer and his family did the harvest themselves. When I was 17 years old, he gave me a 5-acre plot, and I did my own seeding and nursery, as young as that”.

As a young woman, when she was still unmarried, and with the help of her brothers, she used to reap up to 15 quintals from the land. She got married at 20 years old and her life was normal up to 2001 when her husband migrated to the United States by himself, leaving her alone with four children aged 12, 10, 5, and 3 years of age.  

But Elvia never gave up or lost her desire to progress in life.

“My children gave me the drive to keep pressing ahead; I really wanted to work hard for my family. Since I was growing coffee, I wanted to be able to improve my production, so I approached a group of persons I knew and joined the Rancho Viejo Integrated Coffee Growers Association (AIDEC)”.

In 2013, she was the only woman in the group, along with 15 men.

 “It was not easy for me because the men were asking why I was getting trained, since I could not do the work alone. I always defended myself by saying that I could share my knowledge with other persons”, she stated.

“When I joined, I began to tell other women that they had the right to receive support from the various institutions, and two others joined when I was in my second year of training”.

This leadership role has resonated within the National Coffee Association, Anacafé.

According to Magdali Martínez, integrated development specialist for the entity, “She has motivated other women. Elvía has influence and the men within the community recognize her leadership and respect her. At first, there was some resistance; however, they now recognize her and her own organization is putting her at the forefront of all the projects”.

The participation of women in farmer organizations is key, according to María Febres, IICA Representative in Guatemala. “They have demonstrated leadership, perseverance and above all, they inspire confidence in the partners based on the results they have achieved. The road is not easy for them, they have to work hard and show that they can really contribute to change making, by breaking down the stereotypes in order to take on management roles with a lot of responsibility.

In 2015, when Elvia became the manager of the AIDEC, there were more than 10 women in the Association. In 2017, the organization became a cooperative, and she was elected President. The organization now has 56 members, of whom 15 are women.

 “We have sold approximately 1500 quintales of parchment coffee, and with the support of ACODIHUE, the Huehuetenango Association for Integrated Development Cooperation, we have been able to find markets. We have the support of Anacafé and IICA, through  PROCAGICA, and we have been able to renovate most of the coffee farms; they also assist us with fertilizers, organic inputs and fungicides”, she stated.

Today, she lives with two of her children, and a girl that she adopted, who is now 13 years old. On her land there are also 20 beehives, which have provided her with 6 quintals of honey. She also rears rabbits, and as part of the crop diversification on her coffee farm, she plants avocado trees, and has already sold around 1800 fruits. “We are never out of food”, she remarked.

The pandemic has somewhat slowed down the expansion of the cooperative and the use of the roaster. With the total shutdown of public transport, processing in the nearby towns has halted, since most of the local farmers transport their coffee by minibus.

Once the crisis is over, Elvia hopes to make another dream a reality: for the cooperative to acquire a building to store the coffee.

“A lot of the members currently sell a portion of their production to intermediaries because they have nowhere to bring the coffee together. We want to buy a place to build a storeroom; I dont want to die before seeing in Rancho Viejo a place where we can collect the coffee, and a market that pays us a decent price”.

PROCAGICA is administered by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), along with the European Union, and seeks to improve the living conditions of the rural population in the coffee-growing areas of Central America and the Dominican Republic.

More information:

Institutional Communication Division at IICA.