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July 2010 Update, and HOW YOU CAN HELP!

Detailed Report

We are very excited to provide you an update on the activities of Semillas Para el Futuro in the community of Chocolá, Guatemala and our reasons for seeking contributions. We are really beginning to see the cumulative effects of our efforts over the past few years and believe our process is creating a new multi-faceted approach to community development in poor rural areas.

To continue this innovative approach, we need to raise $50,000 a year to carry our programs forward two to four years, to achieve sustainability – that is, the point when the community can move forward without us. Although Semillas Para el Futuro is a registered NGO in Guatemala, all funding support is tax deductible in the US through our 501c3, Southern Maya Project for Archaeology and Community ().

Chocola is a small indigenous coffee-growing community on the Pacific piedmont of Guatemala. The community has strong natural, historical and human resource assets, but its desire for economic, institutional and social re-development and reform is frustrated by government policies that deny education, self-governance and financial assistance to the populace.

>> Why Chocola? A town of 13,000, Chocola has no municipal government and does not appear on maps. It is in Guatemala's South Coast, an area often neglected in favor of the more glamorous highlands. But Chocola has four important assets and with help, the people of Chocola can create a better future.

1. Natural assets: Chocola has an abundance of natural resources that make it ideal for profitable agricultural reform: the richest soils in Guatemala, according to university studies and, because it is on a piedmont slope, it has two climatic zones that multiply the variety of crops that can be grown, but which include both cacao and coffee, a wide range of native hardwood trees, bamboo, citrus and other fruits, as well as vegetables. It receives an abundance of rainfall and has two rivers on its flanks and many small springs.
2. Historical assets: Chocola has been continually inhabited for more than 4,000 years and the present day village sits atop of one of the most important pre-classic Maya cities. Additionally, it is filled with historic buildings and coffee plantation processing facilities that date to the industrial revolution in Guatemala in the 1890s. The Guatemalan Ministry of Culture has confirmed the importance of both sites and is seeking funds to begin research of the Maya site and restoration of the Industrial History site. Both could become tourist income industries for the town.
3. Human Resources: Men are especially enthusiastic about learning new farming practices and investing in agriculture reform since agriculture is their traditional role. Women and youth have been under-utilized resources, but recently both our reading/library and family nutrition programs have opened a gateway for women and young people to participate and develop leadership.
4. Desire: Chocola people have a strong desire to win on their own, yet recognize that to do so, they need training. This attitude has resulted in “accompaniment” becoming a central element in Semillas programs, implemented in a way that fosters teamwork, information transfer and success. (return to summary )

>>Four years ago Semillas Para el Futuro began an innovative method of trying to help this village create a better life for itself – a new model for community development. Our plan was to start by approaching the community with open minds, listening to their needs and dreams, working to build mutual confidence and respect, and awakening them to possibilities and options. We explained that our role would be to act as advisors and to connect them with other groups or agencies that would bring to Chocola the opportunities for the training and support that they requested.

As we worked with Guatemala business people, government agencies and other NGOs, it was recognized that this overall strategy represented a new model for community development and that Semillas’ work with Chocola could become a demonstration project for the region to: (a) reinvent the economic model and (b) provide requisite training and accompaniment to help the community revitalize itself and achieve greater prosperity. A longer-term goal is for Chocola to serve as an education center for the region to export its newly acquired know-how to other communities in the area. (return to summary )

During the first two years we focused on the “due diligence” process of identifying goals, community resources, potential leaders, supportive community institutions and barriers to development, and on building relationships of mutual trust and respect. At the same time, we have adopted practical definition of the concept of sustainability.

>>For our purposes, sustainable means that the community participants are in control of the program or project and have developed the means and the will to continue it into the future, allowing the assistance and support from Semillas to decrease and eventually end. Of course, each program also intends to achieve sustainability in terms of its ecological impact and its economic success.

The reason our idea of sustainability is so important is that this word has been used ad nauseum by NGOs to raise money for “projects” that are heart-felt, but which actually have no hope of becoming self-sustainable. Evidence of this may be seen in the plethora of broken and abandoned NGO programs throughout Guatemala which ran only so long as external money “sustained” them. As soon as the NGO left, the program sputtered and died. Failures often trace to NGOs that provide direct grants and volunteers to projects, but fail to put equal effort and thought into the human resource development which is critical to empowering the participants to run the program themselves. The NGOs leave, satisfied they did their best, and the community is left with something they are not ready to keep alive.

In working to make sure that what we do in Chocola is sustainable, we embrace these principles for projects we support: (a) if economic in nature, they must strive toward the goal of paying their own way within three to four years of start-up, (b) they must benefit the community through job creation and/or tangible social and educational outcomes, (c) they must provide participants and their families with success and advancement to ensure continued participation and (d) they must include appropriate and consistent training and accompaniment. Further, we only support programs in which participants invest some of their own money, resources and sweat equity, so that they have something of their own to lose other than just another NGO’s money.

At the same time, we recognize the need for seed resources and cash to help programs get started. We deploy these resources in the following ways:

(a) “Buy-in” activities: help the community identify programs they want and can do, before launching activities.
(b) Provide business and leadership training to help project leaders learn both the skills they need and how to work together for common goals.
(c) Bring needed technical training, including added-value methods to increase returns to participants.
(d) Help build market connections within and beyond their communities which generate earned revenue sufficient to support the program.

We start with programs that are comfortable for people and which draw on existing knowledge and skills and then expand from there. In Chocola this has generally meant agriculture for the men and home-based cottage industries or small retail businesses for women and young people. We support nothing that smacks of welfare or charity. Participants must invest some cash if possible, and much sweat equity. We help them create open policy and management structures which they control, and they must embrace the goal of becoming self-sustaining -- not forever looking for external support. (return to summary )

In 2009 we began moving into the second general phase: on-the-ground projects which demonstrate the power of teamwork in achieving common goals. Four core project areas have been identified: Agriculture Reform, Food Security and Nutrition, Community Learning, and Historical Tourism. Each area has at least one flagship project in which we and members of the community are participating and through which participant families can meet attainable goals and achieve greater confidence and determination – skills and attitudes which they can carry them into a better future.

Agriculture Reform: With the help of agronomists and agribusiness experts, Semillas focuses on crop diversification and intercropping to increase the variety and productivity of agriculture, and added-value strategies and better post-crop marketing to ensure better economic results. Growing coffee has been traditional in Chocola since it was the center of a huge German-owned company farm or finca in the 1890s. However, a variety of international and local market forces make it critical that farmers learn not to rely solely on coffee and Chocola’s lower elevations are ideal for growing high quality cacao beans. In 2009 we initiated our first crop diversification program to teach farmers how to transition from coffee to cacao without loss of income during the three years required for cacao trees to mature.

>> Phase I of the Cacao program included training in layout and implementation of intercropped fields; germinating over 2000 cacao seedlings from selected genetic stock; distribution and planting of cacao and shade/crop trees, and grafting producing stock onto the young cacao trees. The cacao growers group (Cacao Pioneers of Chocola) will harvest their first crop in 2012. Our partners in this phase have been the Riester Conservation Foundation, the Rain Forest Alliance, and FundaSistemas, a Guatemalan NGO. (return to summary )

Phase Two of this program needs additional funding:
  • $5,000/yr for three years to continue planting to reach sufficient production for the Pioneers to meet minimum tonnage and quality requirements for exportation.
>> Cacao tree planting is phased and integrated with native hardwood trees (Teak, Mahogany, Cedar, Palo Blanco etc) provide shade. These shade trees become hardwood products for sale and help diversify the canopy for migratory birds. The group has planted 10,000 trees to date and needs to double that number. They now operate their own nurseries to germinate cacao trees with carefully selected genetics and have trained local people as experts in grafting. (return to summary )
  • $5,000/yr for three years to provide on-going training and accompaniment, including in marketing. On the market side we have good provisional understandings with chocolate manufacturers in the United States and Mitsubishi Exportation Guatemala to help us get product to market and pay the farmers fair prices for their labors.
  • $30,000 is needed during 2011 to build a cacao “beneficio” for post-harvest fermenting, drying and bagging the cacao for exportation, all of which add value to the crop. This could be a loan to growers, to be paid back over 10 years.
  • $2,000 for legal services to fund the creation of a business organization and to protect the unique branding opportunity represented by “Chocola Chocolate.” (return to summary )
Today there is a coffee cooperative of roughly 500 families, but they are going broke growing coffee. We are currently exploring ways to provide technical support to farmers whose fields are in higher elevations which produce better quality coffee, and where continued growing can be profitable.

>> Chocola's coffee farmers need modern farming techniques, business training and better genetic material, as well as better post-harvest practices, in order to produce a crop that fetches a higher price. Most of this will be supplied by partnerships with Guatemalan industry groups and NGOs such as AGEXPORT or ANACAFE and a nearby agricultural university, but for Semillas there are two critical additional needs:
  • Basic business training for both producers and the officials of the existing coffee cooperative, at a cost of roughly $6,000 per year, and
  • Appropriate renovation or replacement of existing processing facilities. The preliminary budget for the most necessary items is $10,000 for each of the coming two years. (return to summary )
Food Security and Nutrition: after feasibility testing in 2009, we launched “Huertas Familiares” (Family Gardens) in the first quarter of 2010. It is successful both as regards participation and management organization – thirty-eight families have formed the Garden Association and are now using organic methods to grow vegetables for household consumption and potential sale.

>> As the Family Gardens program continues to expand throughout Chocola, the variety of locally grown vegetables will increase dramatically. Huertas Familiares has received invaluable in-kind support from Guatemalan companies providing the initial seeds, seedlings, organic fertilizers and organic pesticides. The participant families provide materials to build the protection needed from chickens, dogs and rain, as well as all the land and all the labor. Their Garden Association instituted a small inscription fee and a small fee for each training class they attend, and with the proceeds they are buying the seeds needed to grow seedlings for on-going planting and expansion of the program to new families. (return to summary )
  • A core element in the success of this program is the consistent schedule of training and coaching support from the program manager, an agronomist formerly with the Guatemalan Department of Agriculture outreach programs, along with a university practicum student. A total of $14,000 is needed to continue funding the program through the end 2011.
Community Learning: The education system in Guatemala has many faults and these are most evident in the poor and rural areas. NGOs such as Semillas must be creative in supporting youth and adult education programs that teach leadership, love of learning and problem-solving skills, and which provide information resources residents can draw upon for ideas and technical information. Semillas partners with the Riecken Foundation (, which focuses on turning static community libraries (more like “jails for books”) into open centers of learning for all ages. There are now approximately 50 Chocola children and their families active in the weekly Children’s Story Hour alone.

>> The Chocola community provides a large and very suitable restored 1890 building for the library, and pays the salary of a secretary/librarian and all building utilities. Semillas began funding Riecken’s activities in the fall of 2009. The Riecken team has recruited and provided organizational training to a local Library Committee. Committee members and volunteers have been trained to implement programs such as application of the Dewey Decimal System to the collection, reading stimulation, and liberalized lending practices. Riecken staff and Semillas members are culling and rebuilding book collection. (return to summary )
  • This successful program is moving into phase two and the Riecken team recommends hiring a local young woman whom they have trained, to support and promote the library program, thus shifting more responsibility to local control.
  • The annual cost to Semillas for this program the Riecken program, including the local Library Promotor, is $14,200. The program will become self-funding through fees, community programs and development of local support, and as the cost of guidance and support from the Riecken team decreases over time.
  • We also seek a sponsor for bringing internet service to Chocola in the library, and making it available to anyone. The sponsor cost would be $1,500 for initial installation. The community will fund the monthly connection and maintenance fees. We already have five donated laptop computers to support this plan.
Many children in Guatemala fail to do well in their first year of school because they are poorly prepared. We will be working in the coming months to help another NGO, “Let’s Be Ready” (, bring its pre-school program to Chocola.

>> Let’s Be Ready’s program is very clever: it seeks out unemployed teachers with an entrepreneurial spirit, provides them training in the latest pre-school education techniques, and pays their salary. The teacher is responsible to find a suitable location in his or her community, gather students, and of course, teach the little ones. In addition to paying the teacher, Let’s be Ready provides books and other educational materials for each school, along with on-going visits, monitoring and training. (return to summary )

In addition, the need for basic leadership training and other forms of adult education directed at the social fabric is very great in Chocola. At the request of two major organizations in the community, Semillas began a workshop series on community leadership and how organizations function in January of 2010. The workshops are designed to help leaders of these and other groups in Chocola better understand how their organizations should and can function, how to reduce division and disengagement, and how to work together to toward common goals that are important to the entire community.
  • The current leadership workshops are provided by a Guatemalan graduate student, the first in his family history to realize the dream of higher education. His work is funded through mid-September of 2010.
  • Additional phases are needed to provide continuity and reinforcement throughout 2011 and 2012, at a cost of approximately $6,000 per year.
Historical Tourism: Chocola is extremely fortunate to have two important historical assets: (a) a huge and largely unexplored pre-Classic Maya site beneath its feet, and (b) the headquarters and processing buildings of what was during the late 19th and much of the 20th century the largest coffee plantation in Central America. Both could be world-class tourist attractions, especially in the increasingly popular format, Community Tourism.
  • >> Under the leadership of the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture, a Master Plan has been drafted regarding the industrial site, Finca Chocola. We continue to pursue completion of the Community Tourism section of this plan, which will be designed by the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism in cooperation with the History Commission of Chocola.
  • Agencies of the Guatemalan government will put some funds into repairs needed to protect the buildings from deterioration caused by the rains and humidity, but we anticipate that both these short-term repairs and the longer term restoration will need funding from outside sources. Semillas has donated lumber and other materials to help in that work.
  • As implementation begins, so will the need for training and support of local people in many areas, including carpentry and other construction skills, as well as the business of community tourism.
  • Although we do not have budgets for the restoration of the German coffee beneficio and other historic German buildings, a preliminary Ministry estimate is about 1.2 million dollars U.S.
  • The ancient pre-Classic Maya site is believed by some experts to be perhaps the site at which the Maya system of time took shape, along with the glyphic system of writing. (return to summary)
For a variety of political and social reasons, the investigation of the Maya site will not begin until a good start has been made on the Industrial Archaeology site and the benefits of Community Tourism can be felt in Chocola. Decisions on developing these historical assets are largely in the hands of government agencies. Thus, no budget is available for the Historical Tourism area but we have commitments for materials and carpentry instructors to begin the process of restoration training in 2011.

Many people in the world have lately focused on the Maya system of time and the fact that one major cycle of the “Long Count” is due to end in December of 2012. However, rather than being the “end of the world,” this date is more properly conceived of in Maya thinking as the beginning of a new cycle. And it is a convenient marker for us – a time when, with the help of our program partners and a generous team of donors, the community of Chocola will be well on its way to a self-determined, positive, healthy and productive future.

Heading into 2013, Semillas can continue as friends and advisors, but we believe our fundamental work will be done. Most important, the program being pursued in Chocola can become an economic and leadership development model for the Pacific piedmont region of Guatemala, a model in which Chocola can play an important role as an educational center, exporting its know-how about what works and what does not work, to surrounding communities and international NGOs.