Sustainable Livelihoods Program
Sexto Sol helps grassroots organizations to establish new ways of earning an income that are environmentally appropriate and inclusive to women. We prefer to work with emerging cooperatives and associations since collective effort builds social support, forms leaders and leads to people taking ownership for the development of their community.
Our focus is to “develop people.” We don’t simply create businesses, rather we help people to recreate themselves as businessmen and women. On their behalf we facilitate the formation of partnerships between the cooperative and companies interested in importing their product. We encourage the northern company to invest in the cooperative by providing start-up capital that will in the end benefit both partners.
Our work is to move groups through the stages to the point where they have the good group process, leadership and knowledge of the market in place to insure their independent managing of their own business. At that point, Sexto Sol’s involvement is done and we are free to take on a new group. Example: Cerro de la Olla coffee cooperative (27 families) independently managed their organization after 2.5 years of involvement by Sexto Sol.
Historically we have concentrated on organizing small-scale coffee producers to prepare to enter the fair trade export market. We have always suggested that they establish a second cooperative business since making a living by selling a commodity crop is not reliable. In recent years with the crisis of depressed prices, we have been focusing on helping coffee cooperatives to transition to other economic activities. One of the cooperatives is also working to sell their quality coffee to the fair trade market with our assistance.
Underlying all of our projects is a commitment to promoting community action, whereby community members working in a united manner to solve common problems or reach shared goals. To that end we help cooperatives to build cohesion and group process for a stable cooperative. We emphasize the notion of the “common good” since once people adopt this idea, the process of community action should naturally lead to the conservation of the biodiversity and well being of individuals and the community. Ultimately the most profound accomplishment Sexto Sol can achieve is to empower people to analyze their problems and to act together to create better conditions.
Partnerships with grassroots organizations, public institutions and the private sector.
Please see the Artisan Coop section for details on cooperatives that Sexto Sol assists
Assistance to former refugees as they adapt to life after exile
Our association with ARDIGUA, the Asociacion de Refugiados Dispersos de Guatemala, began in 1994 while the refugees were in exile in Motozintla, Chiapas. Dr. Brennan provided mental health assistance and training and Francisco Barrios gave workshops on solar ovens in 1994 and 1997. Currently, families who are original members of ARDIGUA are farming coffee on collective farms in Guatemala, a few hours from the Sexto Sol office.
In exile the refugees decided that their best chance of survival upon repatriation would be to work together in Proyectos Productivos Populares – community-based collective enterprises. In support of that choice Sexto Sol assists them to maintain group cohesiveness despite difficult times and to establish an alternative source of income. The communities are located in the heavily forested escarpment known as the Costa Cuca where coffee farming has preserved some of the tree canopy and thus biodiversity.
In 2002, given the dismal coffee prices, Nuevo Bullaj community of 45 families was considering cutting down rainforest to plant other crops (an area of 3.5 caballeras). We presented them with the idea of selling their excellent coffee in the Specialty Coffee Market where they can receive premium prices. With our help their application for Fair Trade certification is currently under review and they have just achieved pre-certification as organic coffee.
As an alternative source of income, we are raising funds to renovate the former plantation house into an eco-hotel suitable to receive tours. Volunteers will train them in remodeling. Sexto Sol will provide assistance with promotion and training in hospitality services. The views and forest make this an attractive destination for eco-tourists.
Since 2000 we have assisted Nuevo Eden cooperative to find a viable means of increasing community income. The coffee is not suitable for the Specialty Market so we are assisting the 15 families to market the macadamia nuts from trees planted to provide shade to the coffee. In 2002 we took representatives for training in how to produce and process the nuts. They have since sold one crop, a new source of income. This project is soon to expand to include the other former-refugee collective farm of 30 families just up the road.
Projects in Chiapas: Tzobolic Historia, Tradición y Cultura, S. de S.S.
This is a cooperative of weavers from indigenous communities around San Cristobal de las Casa. They have asked for assistance to market their fine wool rugs to specialty shops and dealers abroad. The organization continues to grow as more people ask for the oportunity to work. Tzobolic was formed to provide members with dignified work as an alternative to immigrating to the U.S. to find employment.