In the last decade, climate variability has led to a sharp increase of rust plague, significantly decreasing coffee production in Guatemala. Although monitoring tools exist, their precision is low, and coffee growers need more specific information in order to prevent further damage to their farms. For instance, airplanes and satellites can capture aerial footage of the land, but the expensive, low-resolution images they produce lead to a high degree of uncertainty in the decision-making process of the coffee grower.
Anacafé, the country’s national coffee association, currently lacks the financial capacity to sustain a technical team that can support all coffee growers in Guatemala. Smallholders often receive limited technical assistance – periodic field visits to examine a farm’s performance and compliance with technical experts’ recommendations – and training from Anacafé. Digital and physical infrastructure also inhibits field technicians’ efficiency. Navigating roads between coffee producers can take two to five hours, and technical assistance is usually provided manually with paper and pencil. Taken together, these factors prolong the length of each visit and consequently limit the number of farms reached.
Embedding Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Anacafé’s operations facilitated the automation of its technical services, in particular technical assistance and monitoring of epidemiological risks. The goal of the grant was to enhance (i) smallholders’ access to markets, finance, technology and information and (ii) their decision-making capacity in coffee production.
ICT measures were adopted in the coffee value chain to monitor epidemiologic risks and support the decision-making process of smallholders, namely: 4 drones, 8 GPS sets, 30 weather stations and 7 data loggers. Drones provided high-detail images at a lower cost, identifying more specific land situations while data loggers, an innovative measuring tool to observe epidemiological conditions and analyse climatic data, were implemented to generate a real-time alert system. By generating and systemizing information, the application of ICTs enabled precision agriculture and climate-smart coffee production.
Moreover, the National Information System, an online platform that centralizes information generated by Anacafé, was developed for technicians to use as a daily work tool to more efficiently assess the performance of coffee producers in each follow-up visit. The System expanded the number of coffee farmers served by the technical team, as it accelerated both the registration process of producers and technicians’ field visits, further allowing the prioritization of farms with the greatest need of attention. The provision of this platform was further strengthened by 46 Portable Computer Equipment that optimized the time and resources invested by technicians at each follow-up visit, generated real time information for consultation, and enabled assistance during the rainy season and in areas difficult to access.
These measures have generated positive results:
The implementation of ICTs in the service provision will enable Anacafé to include as beneficiaries farmers’ organizations whom the current system does not yet reach. The ICT initiatives implemented in Guatemala’s coffee industry also have the potential to serve as a basis for replication in similar value chains – such as for bananas, avocado and macadamia – and as a benchmark for other countries in the sub-region.
On the other hand, a degree of resistance to the project’s new ICT equipment challenged its full uptake; this was especially the case for the technical team, who had been accustomed to using the previous work tool for over 50 years. The lack of commitment to acquiring new technology can consequently hinder the development of high-quality coffee products.
Further training about technology’s benefits for the coffee plantation is essential to prolonging the effects of the project. Two animated videos were produced to launch a national awareness campaign. As a growing number of young descendants become less interested in their families’ farms, the sustainability of Guatemala’s coffee farming needs to be promoted.
Additionally, the project’s data will inform the National Plan for the Promotion of Coffee that Anacafé is currently promoting. Government ministries will help promote the renewal of 50 per cent of coffee plantations in order to increase export volume, employment and producers’ profitability.