ASOBAGRI, Barillas, Guatemala

The Asociación Barillense de Agricultores (ASOBAGRI) was founded in October of 1989 and received Fair Trade certification in 1999. Since 1989 Asobagri has grown into an organization of over 1200 producers in over 95 communities in northern Huehuetenango and El Quiché provinces between altitudes of 1000 and 1650 metres above sea level. 100% of Asobagri’s membership are indigenous Mayan peoples—the majority of which are from Q’anjob’al, Akateco, and Ixil communities. The isolation of many of these communities (many without roads beyond a donkey trail) can be challenging but despite the odds, Asobagri continues to grow in strength and solidarity with time.

2011 brought disaster to Asobagri when a mudslide on the edge of town destroyed a brand new warehouse (not yet insured), as well as Asobagri’s head office and original warehouse and facilities. One local family was completely buried in the slide and did not survive. The years of savings that were spent on the new warehouse were lost in the blink of an eye.

When Just Us! visited in 2014, the infrastructure of Asobagri may have been destroyed but not their resolve to improve their quality of life. Although they still don’t have a warehouse yet, they now proudly show off their new offices, quality control lab and café in the centre of Barillas. In addition, we noticed an increased recognition of women in the organization with three female members on the Board of Directors and a strong Women’s Association. Asobagri also promotes a women-only coffee initiative called Café Feminino.

When we visited in January 2014, we travelled to two of the five member communities from which we buy coffee: Puente Alto and Chenquejelve (see map). Particularly in Puente Alto we saw astounding women involvement. Many farms are operated by women while husbands go to the USA for work. In Chenquejelve we saw many signs of engagement but could also see how communication and involvement are more challenging in the case of isolated and distant communities like Chenquejelve which lies at the outskirts of Huehuentenango on the Mexican border.

Fair Trade has had a significant impact on the lives of members of Asobagri. 89% of the net profits go to farmers and if any of remaining 11% is not needed for administrative costs it goes to farmers as well. Social premiums are invested in a health care program and education of family members, as well as technical assistance in quality improvement and organic agriculture methods for sustainable coffee production. They also provide members with basic training in organizational management and operations, organize literacy programs for community members, and fund credit programs for women’s groups.

In 2014, Just Us! will buy three containers of coffee from Asobagri for a total of over 120,000 lb of coffee. When our three contracts were fixed at an average of US$2.77/lb in November, 2013, the New York Coffee Futures price was about US$1.05/lb and the minimum Fair Trade (FLO) price was US$1.90/lb.

Quick Facts:

Co-operative: Asobagri
Country: Guatemala
Date Established: 1989
Members: 1200
Social Programs: Free health clinic and house visits, women-only coffee program, university and public school scholarships, micro-loans, community literacy programs