The situation in Guatemala is becoming more difficult every day with the issue of labor shortages in the Huehuetenango coffee farms. To read about the problem, we suggest you read the previous blog on this topic. This blog will be focused on the possible solutions that we've discussed with Rolando Villatoro and Mauricio Rosales.
Continuing the previous talk with Rolando, a coffee producer who owns the Las Rosas farm in Huehuetenango, we spoke about the subject of producing less coffee but of better quality in order to sell it at a better price. In the specific case of his estate, he tells me that they have been focusing more on quality than quantity since 2005 when he was able to participate for the first time in a coffee auction. In that year they began to change the coffee varieties, which took a really long time. After that, they focused on different coffee processes, starting with natural and honey to later go into more experimental processes such as double fermentations but only on request. Something very important to accompany the new varieties and new processes is traceability, Rolando emphasizes. Today, roasters are looking for traceable coffees and they are focusing a lot on having information about their coffees.
Another aspect that could discourage migration and encourage people to return to work in the coffee plantations is to make farm owners aware of paying better wages, improving workers' housing, giving them access to electricity, talking with them and seeing what needs they really have. But trying to encourage them to work with improvements is difficult because with access to social media they have the possibility of seeing the lives of their relatives or acquaintances in the US and when comparing that life with the one they have in Guatemala it is normal for them to think about leaving.
Another possible solution for the migratory problem in the "Huehue" area, Mauricio Rosales, a coffee producer who owns the La Linda farm in Huehuetenango tells us, is to encourage people from other departments such as Quiché and Cobán to come to work on the coffee estates there, since they have similar climates instead of looking for possible workers from the coast.
Mauricio tells us that the migratory problem is practically impossible to stop and if the farms want to survive they must change the way they have been doing things, he places great emphasis on changing the production areas and relying on technology. Before there was an excess of labor and now there is a shortage. What has to be done is to change the way of planting, increasing the distances between rows of plants and to use more mowing machines. By changing these distances, there would be more plants together and more light coming in, which makes the plants produce more. This would also improve efficiency in fumigation issues where even drones could be applied for it. It is extremely important to start with organizing the farms, Mauricio tells us, just as it is very important to stop doing selective pruning to do more systematized pruning.
Cutting more efficiently will reduce operating costs and make cutters more profitable. This improved efficiency will also help maintain better quality in coffee which can help ensure a better selling price than being dependent on stock prices.
In short, stopping migration is practically impossible. Discouraging migration is extremely complicated. Coffee farms must opt for new strategies that involve technology and efficiency in the cutting of coffee so that they need fewer workers than before, and at the same time they can better pay those who continue to participate in the cutting.
By: Andres Ranero