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July 2010 Update, and HOW YOU CAN HELP!

Executive Summary

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 that 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?

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. read more details…

During the first two years we focused on the “due diligence” phase 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 developed a practical definition of the concept of sustainability. more about our concept and principles of sustainability…

In 2009 we moved into our second general phase: on-the-ground projects to demonstrate to the community the power of teamwork in achieving common goals. Four core project areas were identified Agriculture Reform, Food Security and Nutrition, Community Learning, and Historical Tourism. Each area has at least one flagship project in which we, the community and 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 agribusiness experts, Semillas focuses on crop diversification and intercropping to increase the variety and productivity of agriculture, added-value strategies and modern post-crop marketing to ensure better economic results. Growing coffee has been traditional in Chocola for 120 years. However, a variety of international and local market forces make it critical that farmers learn not to rely solely on coffee. Chocola’s lower elevations are ideal for growing high quality and higher market value 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. more on Phase I and our partners in the cacao program…

            Phase Two of the cacao program needs additional funding:
  • $5,000/yr for three years to continue planting to reach sufficient production for the farmers to meet minimum tonnage and quality requirements for effective sales. what trees…
  • $5,000/yr for three years to provide on-going training and accompaniment, including in market development and marketing.
  • A one time $30,000 fund is needed during 2011 to build a “beneficio” for post-harvest fermenting, drying and bagging of the cacao, all of which will add value to the crop. This could be a loan to the growers, to be paid back over ten 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.”
Today there is a coffee cooperative of roughly 500 families, but they are going broke growing coffee. We are exploring ways to provide technical support to farmers whose fields are in higher elevations which produce good quality coffee, and where continued growing can be profitable. more on coffee in Chocola…

Partner organizations may provide much of what these coffee farmers need, 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 for two years, and
  • Appropriate renovation or replacement of some existing processing equipment. The preliminary budget for the most necessary items is $10,000 for each of the coming two years.
Food Security and Nutrition: after feasibility testing in 2009, we launched “Huertas Familiares” (Family Gardens) this year. It is successful both as regards participation and organization -- thirty-eight families have formed the Garden Association and are now using proven organic methods to grow vegetables for household consumption and potential sale. more on the Family Gardens program…
  • A core element in the success of this program is the consistent schedule of training and coaching support provided by our recently hired program manager, an agronomist formerly in outreach programs with the Guatemalan Department of Agriculture, along with university practicum students, and a local assistant. A total of $14,000 is needed to continue funding the program through the end of 2011.
Community Learning: Guatemala’s education system in Guatemala has failed the people in poor and rural areas. NGOs throughout Guatemala such as Semillas must be creative in supporting youth and adult education programs that teach leadership, love of learning and problem-solving skills. Semillas partners with the Riecken Foundation (www.Riecken.org), which focuses on teaching reading and 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 program. more about the library program in Chocola…
  • This successful program is moving into Phase Two in which Riecken staff recommend 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 the Riecken Foundation 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 for everyone. The sponsor cost is only $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 years of school because they are poorly prepared. We are negotiating to bring another NGO, “Let’s Be Ready” www.letsbeready.org, bring its pre-school program to Chocola at no cost to Semillas or the community. more on Let’s Be Ready’s clever program…

In addition, the need for basic leadership training and other forms of adult education directed at the social fabric is very great in Chocola. In response to requests from two major Chocola community organizations, Semillas began a series of leadership workshops. The workshops 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 of importance 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 fortunate to have two important historical assets: (a) a huge 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. details on Historical Tourism partners and program needs…

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.

» HOW YOU CAN HELP