Water For All: Project Chiapas

Matt Earley — Chiapas, Mexico — January 2016

To kick-off our 2016 Delegations, I spent the first part of January in Chiapas, Mexico with our partner On The Ground Global. We were there with a delegation of people to visit coffee co-ops and to find out more about On The Ground’s Project Chiapas water projects in rural farming communities. The group included university students, a food co-op coffee purchaser, a food policy analyst, a commercial pilot, and several folks from coffee companies associated with On The Ground.

During the early part of the week we paid a visit to the offices of Maya Vinic and Yachil – both located in the incredibly beautiful colonial mountain city San Cristobal de las Casas. Both co-ops shared with us their outlook for the year and all of the measures they are taking to recover from coffee rust fungus. Although both groups will still have reduced production this year, they are seeing a rebound and hope to have higher yields next year when some of their new plants come into production – and older plants that have survived – ramp up their productivity.

LasAbejas-Chiapas copyOn our second day, we visited the warehouse and post-harvest processing site of Maya Vinic – located just outside the village of Acteal. Like with Las Diosas in Nicaragua, Maya Vinic has used the coffee rust outbreak as an opportunity to delve much deeper into best practices and were happy to show us their new mineral and microorganism treatment programs, as well as their worm compost center. All of these practices will allow them to better organically survive any coffee plant disease issues in the near future.

After the tour we visited the Board of Directors of Las Abejas – the parent organization of Maya Vinic. The Board shared with participants the story of the Acteal massacre and all that led up to that tragedy. The delegates were moved to hear the stories of some of the survivors and how many of the perpetrators of the killings were never fully brought to justice. The group is now pursuing justice through the International Human Rights Court where they hope to hold the Mexican government responsible for arming and training the paramilitary groups. It remains to be seen how this will play out.

Water Project - Chiapas, MexicoThe next day we traveled with Bruno, the leader of the Chiapas Water Project, out to where the mountains meet the Chiapas jungle to visit the community of Matias Castellano – the site of the last completed water project that On The Ground and Just Coffee Co-op have supported. The village was gorgeous and incredibly welcoming. As we met with the villagers the appreciation they showed us for lending our efforts was incredible and their generosity was humbling. Many of the women in the community told us that 4 to 5 hours of their day have now been freed by the fact that they now had running water at their homes. The children have more time to study and be kids in the time that they once spent accompanying their mothers to the stream that runs about a half mile from their houses.
Water Project - Chiapas, MexicoIn the morning we hiked a couple of miles into the hills to the spring source walking along the water lines that Bruno and the community constructed in 2015. The spring gushed from underneath the ground forming an oasis type of atmosphere on the mountainside. We took turns walking around it and dipping our hands into the cool rushing water. Across the stream was an abandoned pumping station for another community provided by the government. Unfortunately, the government surveyors did not do a good job calculating the lines and the community still is dry. Because the government program relied on “experts” from outside the community, the people in that village were not trained to problem solve the challenges and are still waiting months after for the government team to return. This validates our Water Project’s philosophy of training members of recipient communities to learn how to maintain and troubleshoot water systems on their own.

This trip was a great success and the participants left with a better understanding of On The Ground’s work as well as how Just Coffee Co-op’s mission plays out all the way to the coffee that we sell. If you are interested in accompanying us on a trip, please keep a look out for the next one. We would love to have you!