Chemical Coffee Farming is Killing Lake Atitlán
Some of the world’s finest coffee grows in the volcanic soils surrounding Lake Atitlan in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, a place described by Lonely Planet as ‘the closest thing to Eden on Earth’. Grown at elevations of over 1,600 meters, these high altitude “hard beans” from this area are renowned for their exquisite flavor. High demand for coffee of this amazing quality though is coming at a heavy price for the ecosystem of Lake Atitlan.
Coffee cultivation is by far the largest agricultural use of land in the Lake Atitlan watershed and it is critical to the local economy. The livelihoods of small coffee farmers are linked inextricably with the health of Lake Atitlán and its environs. But chemical agriculture is poisoning the lake’s ecosystem and threatening the wellbeing of entire Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil Maya communities.
Large chemical fertilizer companies began imposing their products on indigenous farmers in the 1950s. Within a decade they had a stranglehold on farming in Guatemala and the traditional, sustainable, natural farming practices of the Maya had all but disappeared. In the decades since, the quantities of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides sprayed on coffee crops in the Lake Atitlán watershed has increased relentlessly. Today, after nearly seventy years of chemical agriculture, the soil is degraded and pollution of the lake has reached a critical level. Besieged by ever greater inflows of chemicals and other pollutants, the lake’s ecosystem is gradually being destroyed and there are now only a few hundred feet of oxygen rich water left. Time is running out.
A return to organic coffee growing is one of the most important changes that must happen in order to save Lake Atitlán. The local organic farming movement is growing and organic coffee farming cooperatives are at the forefront. Environmental associations, including the Mesoamerican Institute of Permaculture (IMAP) and the Lake Atitlan Environmental Interests Group, are helping more farmers to make the transition from chemical to organic farming.
A solution to this problem…Bioremediation……
Bioremediation- The use of Beneficial microorganisms to remediate damaged soils has been a common practice around the world for decades. The land around lake Atitlan has been so damaged by chemical fertilizer use that the majority of the land can no longer support agriculture without the use of chemical fertilizers and is in need of complete remediation. Repopulating the beneficial microorganisms in the chemically destroyed soil is the fastest and most effective way to remediate damaged soils enabling farmers to transition to sustainable organic farming practices and is used worldwide to do so.
LAEIG is working to address the main problem of chemical contamination — non-organic coffee farming — by providing needed equipment to the 175-member organic coffee farming cooperative, Cafe Maya Chacaya Atitlán (APROCAMCA), so they can transition another 180 farmers to organic coffee growing. We will also help the cooperative to greatly improve the quality of its compost (currently just coffee pulp) through addition of beneficial micro organisms, manure and hydrilla (an invasive plant harvested from the lake by volunteers), resulting in higher yields and higher-value products.Click here to buy organic Coffee
and support this project to save Lake Atitlan