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Progress Report: Comepcafe, Colombia

Progress Report: Comepcafe, Colombia

A mother and daughter team at COMEPCAFE (above) share produce from their garden, including alchucha, a local fruit used raw in salads or cooked. A group of 17 community promoters are providing hands-on training with 288 families to revitalize interest in healthy, traditional foods that can lead to healthier diets. (See this article from Atlas Obscura for more on the Alchucha, otherwise known as the Achachairú.)

As they improve their home gardening techniques, families at COMEPCAFE are learning how to plan water usage and protect water sources.

Mapping local water sources is a first step to setting up irrigation systems for gardens and conserving this precious resource. As they improve their home gardening techniques, families at COMEPCAFE are also learning how to plan water usage and protect water sources. (The indigenous families of COMEPCAFE are part of Food 4 Farmers’ crowdfunding campaign with Grow Ahead to develop an agroforestry and food security project.)

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Blanca’s Journey to Motherhood

Blanca’s Journey to Motherhood – An Agros Story

In honor of mothers across the world, we want to share the story of Blanca Nubia, a young mother who, through the support of Agros, has risen above poverty into prosperity.

From Despair…

Blanca found out she was pregnant when COVID-19 hit. She and her husband, Yader, lived in a shack without running water or a basic latrine. Though they worked hard as day laborers, it was difficult to earn more than a few dollars a day and work was even more unpredictable. Fears and uncertainty about her living situation were worsened with the anxiety of her first pregnancy and the pandemic that threatened the life of her child, especially with no access to medical care.

…To Hope

We reached out to Agros supporters and asked them for help. The response was inspiring. Because of the generous support that poured in, not only did Blanca and Yader start receiving personal protective equipment and food, but they also were presented with their own home and land in the Agros village of Nueva San Jose. Blanca shares, “Before, we didn’t have a house, land, or medical attention. Agros has brought us closer to those services, and that makes me feel safe and self-assured.”

Blanca also began receiving special attention to make sure her pregnancy continued smoothly. A doctor visited Blanca for regular check-ups and provided her with prenatal vitamins and supplements.

In October last year, we asked Blanca about the assistance she had been receiving from Agros, “The doctor has been monitoring the advances in my pregnancy and refers me to the local health center,” she responded, “I am grateful for the doctor’s home visits. They give me confidence that my child will grow healthy and strong.”

In November of 2020, Brayan Estiben was born in a hospital – healthy and without any complications. “It was painful when I was giving birth,” Blanca reflects, “but when I had my baby in my arms, all of the pain went away. It is a marvelous experience to be a mother.”

Lasting Change

Brayan’s health is monitored as he continues to grow. Recently, his weight was checked by an Agros trained health brigadista (a volunteer medical worker) and she was happy to find the baby in good health. (The area surrounding Blanca and Yader’s village has an average childhood malnutrition rate of over 60%. Thanks to the overwhelming support of Agros donors, this issue is being addressed.) 

As Blanca makes her journey through motherhood, she will continue to have access to food, supplies, and medical assistance through Agros. 

Both she and Yader received farming training as well. Yader is cultivating his own crops, which will allow them to generate a sustainable income and reliable food source.  We are so grateful for you and all the Agros supporters who answered Blanca’s call for help. Today, she and her family are able to support themselves as they build a bright future together.

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Beekeeping in Maya Ixil, Guatemala

(Domingo Enoc Toma Lopez, a coffee farmer and beekeeper, models a Maya Ixil veil above.)

Beekeeping for families in Maya Ixil, Guatemala

Isabella de la Cruz Medina displays her certificate after completing her beekeeping training with Maya Ixil Cooperative. She is among 13 young people who have joined the cooperative’s beekeeping program and also works as a promoter. (Maya Ixil was recently featured in an NPR story on how communities are adapting to COVID19 and supporting families.)

Nineteen-year-old Isabella de la Cruz Medina first caught the “beekeeping bug” three years ago while helping her father, Maya Ixil’s beekeeping specialist and Food 4 Farmers’ beekeeping program coordinator. She’s now part of a group of young people trained and working as program promoters, while managing 10 hives of her own. Isabella is also studying to become an agricultural extension officer, and has set an ambitious goal of owning 60 bee hives.

(Isabella de la Cruz Medina (center) with her father, Domingo and Beatriz Ocampo of Food 4 Farmers.)

Beekeeping gear can be very expensive for beginning beekeepers, so Food 4 Farmers’ partner Maya Ixil in Guatemala has hired two young people to sew protective suits, and build racks and boxes for hives. This new venture not only employs young people who have few opportunities for employment in the community; it also makes beekeeping more accessible to coffee-farming families. Maya Ixil beekeepers can now buy necessary equipment for half of the market price and the two young people have ramped up their business. Every two months, they are able to produce and sell 20 jackets and veils, 10 overalls, 100 racks and 10 bee boxes, while also working as community promoters training new beekeepers.

Justo Perez Itzep

Justo’s family has struggled to recover since 2013 when coffee rust decimated their coffee production. Then in 2018 a landslide wiped out much of their farm. Justo’s father – a participant in the Food 4 Farmers beekeeping program – headed north to seek work to support the family. As the oldest child, Justo took over his father’s hives and now manages their small farm. He talks with his dad every week by phone, to get advice on managing the bees and the farm, where they now grow cardamom, coffee and food for the family. It’s been tough, but Justo is determined to make everything work while his dad is away. “When I took over the bees, we had just four hives and now I have 18. My dream is to eventually have 100 hives to help provide for my family,” he says.

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The Second Generation: Katerine’s Story

Katerine Orozco’s story is about returning to coffee farms. Returning to her roots.

Katerine was born and raised in Popayán, Colombia by coffee farmers. Early on Katerine’s mother decided that she wanted Katerine to have a chance of a better life. School was the only way to make this possible. Through their hard work this dream became a reality not only for Katerine but also for her two brothers. All three attended university with one brother becoming an accountant and another becoming an engineer. Katerine initially studied to become a nurse, but when the opportunity to enroll in agricultural engineering occurred, she grabbed it. As a result Katerine has become an example of the second generation returning to the coffee farms to make their communities better.

Today, Katerine is the Food Security Program Coordinator for Nuevo Futuro in Colombia. She’s excited about the work. “Being able to give a small push so people can make changes on their own and with their families has been so gratifying,” Katerine said.

“You can see this with Doña Leida – a widowed mother of three girls who through the program has been able to sell cilantro she grows in her home garden. She is using this for her girls, so they can move forward. Before the Food 4 Farmers food security program, we were struggling. One cannot live only on coffee, so for Nuevo Futuro families this has been so important.”

Katerine Orozco

Katerine continues,  “I’m interested in the social aspect of my work, to be able to contribute through my role as a community promoter.”

Every day, I see coffee farmers participating in the food security project teaching others something new. We all believe that we are going to be successful in growing and diversifying our farms. Thanks to Coffee Lovers like you we are able to invest in stories like Katerine’s. Thank you for making a difference with your daily cup of coffee.

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Bringing Convenience To Rural Nicaragua

Bringing Convenience To Rural Nicaragua

Through hard work, a hand up from Agros, and some luck Rosario Calderon Garcia brought convenience to rural Nicaragua. Read her story below.

Hard, physical work is nothing new to Rosario, 36. She joined her father in the fields of rural Nicaragua full-time at age 17. “I’ve always been a fighter,” affirms this single mother of three; ages 20, 9, and 9 months. “[Before], I worked on a farm, working the land, filling bags, harvesting coffee, cutting weeds with a machete” she adds.

It was Rosario’s father who convinced her to join Agros Tierra Nueva village in northern Matagalpa. “He told me about the project and found the way for me to become a partner as well,” she recalls. As an original partner, he saw the opportunities and the change for a brighter future for his daughter and grandchildren.

Three years ago, Rosario and her two children made the move. “I didn’t bring anything with me when I came,” she says. “Literally, the only thing I brought with me were my kids and a few personal items.”

Undeterred by the amount of physical work required, Rosario tackled the challenge that many men found difficult. “Together with my kids, we started working the land,” she explains.

They were blessed with a bountiful bean harvest the first year. Instead of simply squirreling away her sacks of beans, she sold most of them and invested some of the money in livestock. The rest of the income she saved and used to pay others to do her community work for her, giving her more time to dedicate to her children and her crops.

A year and a half ago Rosario decided to take another risk. “There were no stores around here,” she recalls. “People had to go a long way away to buy anything.” To meet their needs and provide an additional stream of income, Rosario decided to start a small store, which she runs from her home.

She didn’t have much, but decided to start with what little savings she had, about 7,000 Cordobas (roughly $260 USD). “I sold rice and sugar, the most basic things,” she says. “Then, when I sold my beans, I invested another 6,000 Cordobas (about $225 USD) and so on and so forth. I have been investing, investing, investing,” she adds.

Today, she has a much wider selection of products for sale to those working to build a life in rural Nicaragua. Nevertheless, she dreams of growing her store even more to include items like shoes and clothes. She uses the income from the store to pay others to work her fields for her, giving her more time to spend with her youngest child, who is just 9 months old.

The store, which continues to be the only one in the community, is a win-win for all. “Now, people don’t have to go far away,” says Rosario, explaining how she stocks things her fellow partners need most, saving them the transportation costs associated with buying them outside of the community. “They help me and I help them,” she adds.Her store, however, is not Rosario’s only hope for the future. She is hedging her bets on future coffee harvests. “I am trying to fill my land with coffee plants,” she says, knowing that coffee often produces a higher return than other traditional crops like corn and beans. “Right now I have 5,000 plants in my greenhouse that I am going to transplant into the ground,” she says with a smile.

Like many partners in Tierra Nueva, Rosario never would have dared to try to plant coffee without the technical and physical support of Agros agricultural staff. “Agros has helped us a lot,” she says. “They have helped us with the materials, helped us know how to have better harvests,” she explains. “Through their technical support, we have had better harvests and more earnings,” she added.

Five years ago, Rosario never would have imagined she and her family would be in such positive circumstances. “We have a house, we have water and we have ecological toilets,” she says. “Before we came here, we didn’t have these things, I never thought I would have a place like this,” she adds with a smile.

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Bringing Clean Water To Nicaragua: Petronilo’s Story

Bringing Clean Water to Nicaragua

Access to clean water is the biggest problem we have in Nicaragua, Petronilo Lopez Diaz, the San Jose President says frankly. In Nicaragua we have to bring clean water from a long way away and there are only three water points in the community for 29 families.

Difficulty with access to water isn’t the only issue. “When we tested the water we learned that the water we drink is contaminated,” he adds. And although Agros health staff taught Petronilo and the community how to purify the water with chlorine tablets available from the Ministry of Health, it has been an uphill battle for the majority of the families to implement this practice. In the beginning, every change is difficult, he says. Some say: “I have never drank water with chlorine, [the chlorine] makes the water taste different.”

Petronilo’s wife, Franseca, was among the skeptics in the beginning, but now stands firm. “I demand that [my family] drink the chlorinated water,” she says. “I have seen the difference [it makes]. In other families [where they don’t chlorinate the water], their children are sick with diarrhea and vomit much more, she says. I tell [other moms] that they need to chlorinate the water.”

“I feel grateful; grateful to God and grateful to Agros International because they supported us,” Petronilo says. “Today my life is very different. [Before] I didn’t think about the future, but now I do,” he concludes with a smile. Today they have clean water in Nicaragua.

As you approach the home of Petronilo and his wife, Franseca, it is easy to tell from the colorful drawings and pictures that cover their house that their family, education, and their children’s accomplishments are of the utmost importance.

It was his family and his inability to provide for their basic needs that pushed Petronilo beyond his comfort zone. [Where we were before] we lived with a lot of difficulties. Sometimes we had work and sometimes we didn’t. “We didn’t have land to cultivate,” he continues, “With the little we were able to earn I can tell you, you can’t take care of your family.”

Petronilo’s life began to change about 10 years ago when a friend of his became a member of one of Agros villages, El Eden, in northern Nicaragua. When Petronilo saw his friend’s success, he asked if there was any way he and his family could join the village too. Unfortunately for Petronilo, the village was full. But that didn’t dampen his spirits. His friend, who was the village president at the time, told Petronilo he should start his own village. He told me, “organize a new group, find 30 members and I’ll talk to the people at Agros to see if they can help you start a new [village].”

Petronilo and his family have now been in San Jose for eight years. Life in San Jose is better, but it has not been easy for Petronilo and the other families. Like Petronilo, many families brought with them their few belongings and what knowledge and experience they had. And although Petronilo had worked in agriculture his whole life, he didn’t know how to cultivate land properly.

Through the help of Agros agricultural technicians, Petronilo and the other partners have learned to take full advantage of his land. “Here, I have learned everything,” he says. “[Even] how to grow vegetables,” he adds with a broad smile. The partners have also been able to learn how to grow passion fruit and other high-value crops. These kinds of crops increase their earning potential and ability to provide for their family’s needs.

Petronilo is proud of what he and his family have accomplished. Today, he has a new purpose in life. Instead of just working to survive, he and his family are working to thrive. “I cultivate the land. I work hard [because] with God’s help I want to pay for this land so that my children can stay here and they can have this land.” To date he has paid $2,865 toward his land.

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Norlan’s Chilis: A Labor of Love

Norlan’s Chilis: A Labor of Love

Norlan is a rock star pepper farmer

Norlan Lopez lives in San Jose, one of our villages in Nicaragua. Before choosing to work with Agros, he knew only corn and beans . “I didn’t know anything [about vegetables],” he told us, shyly. But highly technical crops like vegetables, coffee, and cacao bring much higher profits. He and his wife Martha have a 4 year old daughter, Jocelyn, so even though he knew he was signing up for a steep learning curve and thousands of sweaty hours laboring to nurture these delicate plants, it was more than worth it for his family.

Before Norlan planted his pepper crop, his friends and family told him he was crazy. “Peppers are too hard,” they would say. Despite the ridicule, Norlan pushed on anyway. Norlan invested nearly $2,000 into a chile pepper crop last year and saw an amazing return: he more than doubled his investment. Not only was he able to pay off the crop credit, but he made a $1,400 payment on his land loan and saved $1,000 to reinvest in a new pepper crop this year. Once his friends and family saw the results of Norlan’s hard work, they realized they were wrong. As a result many of his friends and extended family have started cultivating peppers too.

Why Has He Been So Successful?

Norlan has peppers down to a science; an agricultural science. With guidance from Agros agronomists, he has implemented region specific farming techniques that have facilitated extremely good production results. One such technique is contour farming, which saves water and fertilizer by utilizing the natural slopes of the land instead of plowing flat fields. Along with his newly learned techniques, Norlan tends to his crops like they are his children.

Why Is This Story So Important?

Not only is it another triumph towards the eradication of poverty, but this story, the story of Norlan and his family, is one that sets a standard. Agricultural sustainability is central to the foundation of Agros progress in rural villages. Farming, when profitable, allows families to generate enough revenue to not only own their own land, but to also escape the grueling cycle of poverty. But it is not as simple as finding land and planting crops.

The truth is a lot of families struggle with agriculture because smallholder farmers are inherently vulnerable. They can lose everything to unexpected drought, market turbulence, pests or corrupt middlemen.

With the proper tools, education, and market connections, it’s our goal at Agros to develop our farmers’ capacity to withstand these shocks. When a farmer has progressed enough, like Norlan, to reliably produce a consistently excellent crop, then he can transact with agricultural exporters who will guarantee a minimum price and a market.

For Norlan, that means a reliable income, one he can invest in his family’s health, well-being, and dreams.

While Norlan has learned a lot from our agricultural technicians, we have learned even more for him. Our ultimate goal in each one of our communities is to facilitate prosperous agribusinesses like his, along with the needed tools to sustain them.

Norlan’s story is one we want to replicate with every Agros farmer! Norlan summarizes the impact Agros and pepper cultivation has had on him and his family. Here, we have to work hard to be able to pay for the land, but when Jocelyn is grown at least she will have a place to live. If we had continued to work other people’s land we never would have had anything for us.”

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Uncovering Hidden Treasure: Henrry and Maria’s Story

Uncovering Hidden Treasure: Henrry and Maria’s Story

What Henry Hopkins, 35, lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in personality and determination. The small, energetic man is not afraid of hard, physical work or responsibility. He will do whatever is necessary to be able to provide for his family: his wife, Maria, as well as three sons and two daughters.

Henrry’s Childhood

“Life has always been hard for us,” he says, matter-of-factly, as if he never expected anything else. Hard work and poverty are all Henry had ever known. He was born into a family of day laborers. Both his mom and his dad worked other people’s land and lived in rented or loaned structures wherever they could.

For Henry, life was difficult but bearable until his parents separated when he was 10. To this day, he cannot talk about that time without tears welling up in his eyes and his voice beginning to quiver. “I don’t like to remember that time,” is all he manages to get out before tears start to stream down his face.

Maria shares the result of his parent’s divorce: Henry’s mother went to the city, Henry stopped attending school after finishing just his primary education, and he eventually went to live with his uncle, who showed him at a young age how to fend for himself by working in the fields.

Starting a Family

He met Maria and they started a family. They had three boys Kevin, now 16, Elton, now 14, and Henry now 12. They wanted to have more children, but had a hard time even providing for the needs of their three boys so they stopped, hoping their situation would improve, eventually. But, their situation did not improve; it couldn’t without land.

Like their parents before them and other landless farmers, Henry and Maria rented plots of land from large landowners to be able to grow their own food (paying their rent in a share of the crop). They also worked as day laborers on other nearby farms to earn cash for the things they needed but couldn’t grow, like soap, salt and oil. As harvests can be unpredictable and work hard to find, they lived day-by-day, never knowing where their next meal would come from, when they would have the chance to work again or who would loan them land next year.

Life With Agros

Today, things are different. “At least we have food and a house our life is stable,” says Henry. “Thanks to Agros and God, we have changed a lot,” says Henry, with a big smile, noting that access to land has been the biggest change. “The most important change is we have somewhere to live and some where to work,” he says. “Today, we have a treasure,” he says. “The land is our hidden treasure,” says Henry.

But, Henry realizes that although the land is a treasure, it would have been like a diamond trapped deep inside a mine, invisible and of almost no immediate help to him or his family without the appropriate tools and additional support from Agros to be able to access it. [Agros] gave us a house, they helped us bring water, they are helping us be able to diversify our crops.” He says this with a smile, as he boasts that he was able to harvest 4,000 pounds of beans this past season, thanks to improved agriculture techniques.

The Future

Today, Henrry is excited and optimistic about the future. He enjoys learning from Agros agricultural technicians who teach him and other partners how to plant, care for and harvest more lucrative crops; like cacao, rice and coffee. “So far I have only planted one part of my land with coffee,” he explains, excited and anxious to harvest his first crop in the coming months. “I love to work with coffee,” he says. “It is a crop that can earn you lots of money. If I am able, I want to change all my land over to coffee,” he says, explaining that he already has the next group of coffee plants growing in his nursery.

Henry cannot say enough good things about his experience with Agros and he doesn’t have to. The work speaks for itself as Henry who is part of the community’s board of directors knows well. People come all the time and say, “Help me Henry, I know about Agros. How can I be part of this community?”

Tierra Nueva

Henry’s life is not the only one that has improved. He shares how “It’s not just me. Here there are 150 families here in Tierra Nueva, the whole community is improved. We have land, somewhere to live, and support to be able to continue working. The only thing we are missing is electricity.”

Because of his family’s increased stability and improved outlook on life, Henry and Maria decided they could grow their family again as well. Since joining Agros, they have added two beautiful girls, Urania 2.5 years old and Marisol, 6 months old, to their family. “We needed them,” he says with a smile.

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Bringing American Dream to Honduras Through Land Reform

Bringing American Dream to Honduras Through Land Reform

Although it is technically part of the North American continent the ‘American Dream’ does not apply to peasant farmers in Central America. No matter how hard you pull, it is impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Here, if you want to get ahead, someone has to reach down to give you a hand up. This hand up is possible through land reform in Honduras.

As someone born into poverty, Luis Alonso Pineda, 49, knows firsthand the obstacles he and others face when trying to break the cycle of poverty. He shares:

“For people in Honduras, even though you work and you give forth great effort, you still will not reach your dreams unless you get an opportunity”

Growing up in the countryside, Alonso never had the opportunity to get an education because it was too dangerous for him to travel all the way to the nearest school. So, like others in his circumstances, Alonso learned by doing. He started working young: by the age of 15 he was helping his parents with their crops. At 18, he started working formally as a day laborer. “I worked on someone else’s land to see if I could help my parents pay for food etc…” he remembers.

Although Alonso married and started his own family, his circumstances never changed. “I always depended on someone else,” he says. “I wanted to have a better life, a better future,” he says. “[But], I did not have any hope. [I had accepted the fact] that this was my life, working for someone else.”

But then he heard about an organization in 2008 that was going to help create land reform in Honduras. This organization would give poor farmers the opportunity to purchase land on credit. Alonso was among the first in line. “I told my friends, this is the opportunity.”’”

After years of hard work and credit from Agros, land reform in Honduras is a reality. The village of Bella Vista is this reality.

“Agros keeps its promises,” says Alonso, who is also the three-time community president of Bella Vista. “It keeps them to the degree that the villager is willing to put forth their effort and value the effort that Agros is making,” he says, highlighting the fact that Agros gives people a hand up instead of a hand out. Land reform in Honduras is the opportunity to climb to a better life. But the destination cannot be reached without hard work and sacrifice.

Barring any unforeseen issues, Alonso estimates that they will finish paying for their land in two years — ahead of schedule. “It makes me feel happy [to know that the land is almost paid for],” he says. “It means that my efforts are not in vain and we were able to achieve our goals.”

Thanks to support for Agros land reform in Honduras and the subsequent economic reform is creating sustainable futures for the rural poor. Our Coffee Lovers Club members are a part of this process. 1% from every shipment goes back to Agros to help continue the work of land reform in Honduras and through out Central America.

Want to be part of the solution of land reform in Honduras?


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Backyard Tilapia Farming: German and Ester’s Story

Backyard Tilapia Farming: German and Ester’s Story

For years farmers like German were forced to work for giant haciendas in the region of Piedra de Horeb in Honduras. But, German with the help of Agros found another way to provide for his family — backyard tilapia farming.

German looked to backyard tilapia farming. But in order to have a backyard tilapia fish farm you need big water tanks. With no other option but to work for the haciendas again, German began digging. German dug and dug for 6 months with nothing but a pickaxe. At times, he felt like giving up, but he was encouraged by his children and his wife, Ester. His daughter dug the first shovelful of dirt, and she knew it would give her a future because German told her it would belong to her and give her opportunity.

Now, well-organized, they’ve created their own sustainable, registered, and profitable business. They consistently supply in-demand tilapia to markets that guarantee a steady income. German calls backyard tilapia farming, “el encanto y el esfuerzo” — the enchantment and the struggle. The struggle for the back breaking work of digging each tank and the enchantment for the taste of success come harvest time. German describes their first harvest as “like a party,” that gave hope and inspiration to the community.

Using the growth from backyard tilapia farming, German and Ester have also branched out into other business opportunities. Ester now has her own corn maize that she makes and sells to her community. This diversification of income enables German and Ester to better provide for their children’s future.

Witnessing the success of Piedra’s backyard tilapia farm is an encouraging and promising glimpse at what the future can look like for all of our communities if we implement this market-driven strategy on a much larger scale in the future. Some say give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Using the Agros model we take that one step further. Teach a man to own the pond and he feeds himself, his family, and his community for generations to come.

1% of all Coffee Lovers Club subscriptions goes back to Agros to help families like German and Ester’s build a future for themselves. Thank you for making a difference with your daily cup of coffee.