With towering oaks, gushing waterfalls and long green stretches of bountiful coffee trees, Guatemala’s Maya Ixil region is a place of lyrical beauty. But listen closely enough, and the lyrics tell an entirely different story – a story of an ugly past marked by heartbreaking violence.
In the 1980s, genocide tore through the Maya Ixil region and more than 7,000 indigenous men, women and children were indiscriminately killed as part of a government-sponsored campaign against the Maya during the country’s brutal civil conflict. Many people fled to the mountains to escape the violence, only to face starvation, illness and unabated aerial bombing. In the end, somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of Ixil villages were destroyed.
In 1998, as the worst of the violence subsided, 28 Maya Ixil community members, each sharing the vision of revitalizing economic opportunities in the region, came together to found a coffee cooperative, Cooperative Maya Ixil.
In 2005, the cooperative received its first loan, a $50,000 loan from Root Capital that helped the business provide its members with timely payments for their coffee. Over the last ten years, Root Capital has accompanied the business in its growth. In 2015, as membership rose to 175 farmers, Root Capital provided Cooperative Maya Ixil with its largest loan yet: $450,000 in trade credit.
“With Root Capital’s financial support, Cooperative Maya Ixil has been able to improve and increase the volume of coffee that we’re commercializing,” said Susana Rodríguez Pérez, the cooperative’s accountant. “And paying our members is much easier than before.”
Poverty in the region is still widespread and deeply entrenched, but the cooperative has made good on its promise to improve the quality of life for members: In 2013, Maya Ixil members reported incomes that were more than double that of non-member families.
“I’m learning to become a better coffee producer,” said one Cooperative Maya Ixil member. “When I wasn’t in the cooperative, I grew coffee how I felt like doing it, inadequately . . . but now I’ve developed and know how to plant [new] coffee, manage shade, conserve the soil.”
“With the cooperative’s help, now we can sell coffee at a higher price. It’s helped our entire family,” said Susana. “For my family, the cooperative has allowed us to study, to put nutritious food on the table, and buy more land.”