On the southern slopes of the Atitlán volcano in southwestern Guatemala, in the midst of cloud forest, the Los Andes estate has been the site of coffee farming for more than 100 years.
The 600-hectare family-owned estate, 60 percent of which retains original forest, has developed over time into a sustainable agriculture operation, a private nature reserve protecting abundant wildlife, and a nurturing environment to the people who live and work there.
But the long tentacles of the global economic downturn have reached even to this remote location, drying up local credit channels. So the recent approval of a loan from Verde Ventures has proved important to continuing the operation, said Los Andes owner Jim Hazard.
“Our costs have gone up enormously but the bank no longer has the liquidity to give us what we need,” Hazard said. “Enter Verde Ventures! The loan that has just been authorized will be a big help. And I mean a big help.”
Verde Ventures is providing a loan of $170,000 to help cover harvest costs.
The estate, which also produces commercial tea, quinine – a tree extract used to treat malaria – and macadamia nuts, employs about 100 workers year-round who also live on the estate with their families. Another 150 workers come down from the highlands to help at coffee harvest time.
Los Andes’ coffee operation is C.A.F.E. certified (Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices) by Starbucks Coffee Company, meaning it meets guidelines Starbucks developed in conjunction with Conservation International on product quality, economic accountability, social responsibility, and environmental leadership in coffee growing and processing.
Hazard’s daughter Olga has worked to establish education and health programs on the estate, which includes a preschool, primary school and health clinic. She is also working to develop ecotourism at the site.
The estate also has promoted the installation of energy-efficient cookstoves and the use of composting in its communities.
Conservation has long been practiced at the estate, Hazard said, noting that the Oliver family from whom he purchased the estate in 1985 worked to protect the forest. They had help from ecologist Anne LaBastille, who visited the site in 1968 to conduct a research project on the resplendent quetzal, the ornate green and red species that is Guatemala’s national bird. She went on to create the first association in Guatemala for the preservation of the quetzal, and Los Andes became the nation’s first protected area officially declared for the protection of the quetzal.
“My family is also dedicated to conservation of this wonderful biodiversity and, among other things, protecting the many springs of pure water for our use and the benefit of many other communities further down,” Hazard said.
The government declared Los Andes a private nature reserve in 2001, and the estate is a founding member of Guatemala’s Association of Private Nature Reserves.