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How a Coffee Farmers Group Empowered One Guatemalan Woman to Lead

When she was a little girl, María Juan Tomas often helped her father with the family’s coffee farm in Guatemala. One day, she thought, she’d have her own plot of land to cultivate.

Tomas wanted an opportunity to build her own wealth, but she knew that traditionally in her area, only boys received land from their parents. Tomas was lucky that when she asked her parents, they gave her one hectare of land at the age of 18. Having this land, Tomas was able to pave opportunities for herself and become a leader to young women in her community.

Photo Credit: Baltazar Francisco Miguel

In 2013, Tomas joined a Feed the Future supported coffee farmers’ group Asociación Barillense de Agricultores (ASOBAGRI) with the aim of using her land to grow crops and start a business. The Inter-American Foundation, a Feed the Future partner agency, works with ASOBAGRI to train more than 1,700 farmers like Tomas in skills to strengthen their businesses.

Through ASOBAGRI, Tomas learned different techniques to grow coffee and strategies to sell her product to the local community. Tomas is now one of 430 women entrepreneurs who are thriving from knowledge and resources learned from Feed the Future.

Despite facing challenges like coffee price fluctuations, the COVID-19 pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes, Tomas can tackle these challenges head on. ASOBAGRI works to build community resilience by showing how farmers can diversify their businesses with new products like jams and jellies.

Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment

In Guatemala, women are often expected to care for younger siblings or have children young, forgoing education in the process, said Charissa Zehr of the Inter-American Foundation. Additionally, many Guatemalan women have little access to capital and face barriers to opening bank accounts.

As part of Feed the Future, the Inter-American Foundation works with Guatemalan women so they can get access to loans with low interest rates to expand their businesses and connect with programs that provide ongoing technical training and certifications.

As a result, Guatemalan communities have seen increased family incomes and more women participating in civic spaces.

“I’m very proud to participate as [a woman], Tomas said. “We have the right to participate, too, as women.”

Since 2013 when she began working with ASOBAGRI, Tomas has increased her income by 24 percent. She’s used her earnings to invest in more land and two pack animals to transport coffee. Tomas has uplifted her family by now having access to more nutritious foods and clothing. She’s also expanding her farm to grow cardamom.

As the vice president of ASOBAGRI’s youth commission and the secretary of the National Commission of Women Leaders of the Guatemalan Fair-Trade Coordinator, Tomas has become a trusted business leader in her community. She also gives back by sharing her knowledge as a community field instructor.

This year, Tomas earned a scholarship to continue her academic studies. She envisions continuing to grow her coffee business and hopes that other families give their daughters land for economic opportunities.

Tomas’ land title and deed are in her name, a process that often requires the help of a lawyer. The process can be arduous for families, reducing their interest in actually doing it. However, Tomas’ journey shows that the opportunities are boundless when Guatemalan women have land documents in their name.

“Inheriting land changes our lives and opens doors for us,” Tomas said. “The heads of families should give land to their children, not only to the boys, because women can work as well. Women have the right to work and bring in their own income.”

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