Maya Ixil: Strengthening Economic Opportunities for Indigenous Farmers in Guatemala

To combat entrenched poverty and violence, this coffee cooperative improved the incomes of indigenous farmers.

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, 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 genocide, only to face starvation, illness, and unabated aerial bombing. In the end, somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of Ixil villages were destroyed.

Rebuilding After Violence

A young woman picks coffee on a Maya Ixil farm. (Photo: Sean Hawkey)
A young woman picks coffee on a Maya Ixil farm. (Photo: Sean Hawkey)

In 1998, as the worst of the violence subsided, 28 Maya Ixil community members came together with the goal of revitalizing economic opportunities in their devastated region. They founded Cooperative Maya Ixil to unite coffee farmers seeking better incomes.

In 2005, the cooperative received its first loan from Root Capital—$50,000 that helped them provide their 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,” says Susana Rodríguez Pérez, the cooperative’s accountant. “And paying our members is much easier than before.”

Doubling Down on Impact

These images were captured during a producer-level survey conducted as part of an impact study covering 4 coffee cooperatives in Guatemala between July-September 2013. Maya Ixil, a coffee cooperative that has received both Credit and Financial Advisory Services from Root Capital and is located in the El Quiche region of Guatemala, was one of the groups chosen to be part of this study. Individual members of the cooperative were interviewed and photographed by consultants who conducted the surveys.

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.

“With the cooperative’s help, now we can sell coffee at a higher price. It’s helped our entire family,” says Susana. “For my family, the cooperative has allowed us to study, to put nutritious food on the table, and buy more land.”

The cooperative also provides members with credit for farm maintenance, and offers technical assistance, seedlings and inputs for renovation, a food security program to promote family gardens, and training for honey production.

“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.”