Challenges the Community of Santa Anita Faces…

The abandoned coffee finca which became Santa Anita la Union was obtained by the community with a high interest loan from a government bank. After ten years of producing organic fair trade coffee and bananas they have only been able to pay off a fraction of the interest on this loan, which in total is over 300,000 U.S dollars.

According to the Fair Trade Federation, “Fair trade is an alternative way of doing business, one that builds equitable long term partnerships between consumers and producers.” The fair trade model is based on seven principles; fair wages, cooperative workplaces, consumer education, environmental sustainability, finaical and technical support, respect for cultural identity, and public accountability. In theory these principals are in practice at Santa Anita. Though in reality, even with the coffee harvest being exported on the fair trade market, a family at Santa Anita lives on less than twelve hundred U.S. dollars a year. A day’s wages total a meager $3.25.

With market certifiers loosening the draw strings on fair trade standards in recent years to allow retail giants like Wal-Mart and Starbucks to deceptively dress their products in the same conscientious packaging with no commitment to justice on the other end of the supply chain, each harvest becomes more difficult for growing communities like Santa Anita. The market price on fair trade coffee has not risen in the past ten years. Farmers are paid an average of $1.26 per pound, much of which goes to covering labelling and export costs. Large scale fincas, contracting with big retail buyers produce enough coffee to cover these costs and generate significant profit, while small scale operations like Santa Anita struggle to hang on.

Despite growing pressure as the tightening vice of global capitalism continues to threaten their livelihood, the people of Santa Anita are determined to survive. For the thirty two families who live on the finca, life at Santa Anita is the closest thing to a dream realized that they’ve know. The debt aside, they have their own land – a seemingly simple privilege that they fought for over 35 years to obtain. They no longer are subjected to slave labor, indentured servitude, malnutrition and disease, common aspects of the plantation life many of them once knew. International solidarity organizations have provided them with the resources to construct two schools, a day care center, a pharmacy and an eco-tourism project. They will tell you they’ve, “come a long way from the oppression and exploitation they fought against during the war.”

In their hearts the people of Santa Anita are victorious. Their vision “is to provide their children with an excellent education so they may be able to pursue a profession and someday return Santa Anita to benefit their people.”

Still, poverty is real. As a result some members of the community have chosen to migrate to other cities in Guatemala or to other countries in search of work. This has raised concerns about the community’s ability to maintain it’s cultural identity.

Though migration has become an interim solution to economic crisis for many families at Santa Anita, community members fear the impact of a long term cycle of migration will be more costly than it’s worth. Not only does migration separate many families at Santa Anita, but with it also comes the double-edged survival trait of assimilation. In the absence of their traditional Mayan customs, migrants from Santa Anita and other similar communities find themselves adapting to urban lifestyles in order to avoid discrimination in the workplace.

The future of Santa Anita is dependent upon the future of its children. Many community elders fear the youth of Santa Anita will become part the cycle of migration, leaving Santa Anita before completing high school to escape poverty. Without sufficient schooling to access university classes, the youth won’t be able to pursue professions to benefit their community, curtaining one of the founding visions of Santa Anita.

Santa Anita welcomes visitors and volunteers who wish to offer support and share in the evolution of the community. For more information about how you can become involved with assisting in the development of sustainable long term solutions here visit:

For more information about the pros and cons of fair trade coffee visit the following links:

post written by, Chris Heneghan

One Response to “Challenges the Community of Santa Anita Faces…”

  1. Former Guerillas Grow Coffee : Guate Living Says:

    […] a blog post over at Santa Anita la Union promoting the mission of the organic Picture by Brooke […]

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