ESCOBILLAL, Guatemala – Two small cooperatives – one producing chlorine and the other coffee – are revolutionizing life in Guatemala’s Dry Corridor, and for the first time peasants in one of the country’s poorest regions have an alternative to agriculture, which has been devastated by drought.
Dońa Claudia, who lives in the village of Escobillal, explained the cooperative’s successes, saying that “since January, 2,589 liters (684 gallons) of chlorine have been sold,” and surveyed the proud faces of the dozen women who are part of the venture. Some of them were unable to applaud at the news, as they were holding children in their arms.
The project, given a push thanks to the donation of machinery from Sweden, has generated income of 3,460 quetzales ($459) that the cooperative is saving in case the machinery “breaks down” and has to be repaired.
Chlorine, which is being manufactured in batches of 40 liters by volunteers in shifts of up to five hours, sells for 2 quetzales per liter, compared to the 7 quetzales it costs in stores at the market.
The sale of the cheaper chlorine has helped the families in neighboring communities, according to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization technician Gustavo Garcia, who says that thanks to Escobillal’s new product, diarrhea and stomach problems among the local populace have been drastically reduced.
The chlorine is used to purify the local water before it is used for cooking or washing.
“I’d like all the institutions to support us,” said Dońa Celia, another lady who works with the cooperative and negotiated the commitment by the FAO, the Swedish Embassy and the municipality of Chiquimula to buy much of the chlorine that Escobillal produces.
The institutions can use it to “disinfect water, fruits, vegetables,” Celia said to the applause of her colleagues.
A few kilometers away, on the bank of the Aguacaliente River, villagers have opted to band together to grow coffee in another cooperative venture.
With the support of the FAO, they created a small cooperative to export the beans, and their aim is to create a factory for organic products, although “much remains to be done” to make that a reality, as the head of the Aguacaliente basin zone, Santos Norberto, said.
Many of the coffee cooperative’s members have adopted sustainable practices in creating their own home gardens, where they produce tomatoes, cilantro and other products.
“The important thing is to diversity production” beyond corn and beans, said Enrique Gonzalez, one of the participants in the project.