CESMACH is a coffee cooperative of 500 member producers in Chiapas, Mexico. Most member producers are organic smallholder coffee farmers living in El Triunfo Biosphere’s buffer zone. This area protects the habitat of two important ecosystems: the cloud forest and the tropical rain forest, where a great number of plant and animal species considered endemic or endangered can be found.
To strengthen its resilience in the face of fluctuating coffee prices and climate change, the cooperative wanted to create a long-term comprehensive plan for food security. To achieve this goal, our partnership with CESMACH began in September 2013 with a Participatory Community Diagnostic and a strategic planning process with member producers and their families, with financial support from Counter Culture Coffee and Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea. We have completed this first phase, and now are in Phase Two of the project, which includes training producers about best beekeeping practices and establishing a monitoring and evaluation system, with financial support from Progreso Foundation, Vermont Artisan, and others.
Phase 1: 2013-2015
Participatory Community Diagnostic completed with 54 producers representing 16 community-based CESMACH cooperatives
All of our projects being with a Participatory Community Diagnostic. This diagnostic identifies information about the level of food insecurity, available resources, regional, social, and geographic characteristics, and the primary challenges that face the community as they work to achieve healthy and sustainable livelihoods. The diagnostic is used to create a baseline and identify the time line of the project, points of reference, and to eventually evaluate the results of the project.
54 producers have been trained on themes of healthy food, nutrition, food security, and crop management
An integral component of our projects is training on these themes. Education is key for lasting success. These trainings are an opportunity to know and listen to the producers. Additionally, we use these trainings to ‘train the trainer’; we teach the technical coop staff to conduct these workshops and to amplify their knowledge and abilities.
A Strategic Plan for Food Security at CESMACH
CESMACH has explored food security projects in the past, but they realized that they were lacking clarity around the organization’s long-term goals. A strategic plan could inform them how to build and manage future programs. Using the Diagnostic, the CESMACH staff is developing a comprehensive food security strategic plan.
Phase 2: 2015-2016
EcoSur, College of the Southern Border, is our implementation partner for Phase Two. EcoSur’s mission is to carry out basic and applied scientific research in areas that affect the development of Mexico on its southern border, giving special emphasis to environmental, economic, productive and social problems, as well as develop technologies and design strategies that contribute to social welfare, biodiversity conservation, rational, efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, and overall sustainable development. Training for current and new beekeepers empowers producers to develop and strengthen an alternative source of nutrition and income for their families.
Survey with beekeepers
Phase Two consists of the program implementation and beekeeping training. EcoSur conducted a survey with 41 of the 50 existing CESMACH beekeepers, taking into account: social and economic aspects, family activities, general production information, infrastructure and equipment, management practices and technological components, commercialization, training and technical assistance, and personal interests. The results of the survey reflect the levels of experience and knowledge of the beekeepers. With this information, the project is being designed.
Study of the apiaries and existing beekeepers
With the beekeeper survey, our partners at EcoSur also collected information on 20 of the 24 apiaries tended by the existing beekeepers. They georeferenced the apiaries and recorded their conditions, production information, and more. From this information, they created a typology of the existing beekeepers and organized them into three groups to personalize their training topics. The program will also include apiculture training for at least 20 new beekeepers, and we want to ensure that each person receives training that is pertinent and appropriate.
Established a community apiary
While some existing beekeepers already have their own apiaries, the majority of member producers do not. To facilitate the success of beekeeping with member producers, we have established a community apiary for beekeepers in training. The community apiary is located in Jaltenango.
Next Activities for Phase Two
Training new and existing beekeepers
The beekeeper trainings began in the final months of 2015. There are four groups of producers, three with various levels of experience and one group of new beekeepers. There are 50 beekeepers with some experience and a minimum of 20 new beekeepers. Training topics include:
- General hive maintenance
- Feeding bees
- Hive division
- Hive subproducts
- Sanitary maintenance
- Rearing queen bees
- Food security
- Experience exchange
Financing the hives
During the second year of the program, beekeepers will receive 3-5 hives and materials through a short-term, low-interest loan.
Follow up and quality control
The final year of the program will include follow up with the member producers to ensure their success and the general success of the project. During the project, we will create a monitoring and evaluation guide. This guide will be used at the end of the project for evaluation; additionally the CESMACH beekeeping technical staff will receive this guide to monitor progress after the official end of the project.