CRS Visits Villa Loyola Coffee Farm

06.Villa Loyola

VILLA LOYOLA, Colombia, 21 June 2016 — We went today to Villa Loyola, a farm about 40 minutes from Pasto. It’s run by Jesuits who have a major presence in this very Catholic region.

By “We,” I mean representatives in Pasto of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and CRS employees from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who have come here for a week of learning from their Colombian counterparts.

According to Andres Montenegro, the CRS Program Officer for “Coffeelands” in South America, Villa Loyola is the “laboratory” for CRS activities in the department of Nariño. This is where the organization experiments with new ways to assist the region’s poorest of the poor, among them the small coffee growers affected by climate change. And it is from Andres that I learned the most today. Here’s what he said:

“Climate change manifests itself in two ways. First, the greater incidence of plagues and diseases like the (coffee) rust. Colombia is coming from 2008 and the worst plague of rust in 40 years. The other is the impact on productivity. The excess of rain or the excess of drought affect coffee cultivation and that affects the income of the small coffee farmers.”

He says that in 30 years and because of climate change, 50 percent of the region will be unsuitable for coffee production, impacting hundreds of thousands of people who depend on the crop for their economic survival. I was stunned by these numbers.

So the plan here is to diversify production and stabilize income. And CRS is helping to do this by encouraging the cultivation of alternative crops, by cultivating cattle and producing fertilizer, by teaching more effective ways to work the land, etc.

I’m on assignment for American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) to assist a student who won one of this year’s AU-Pulitzer Center International Reporting Fellowships. Camila DeChalus, seen in these images, is working on a film about how Colombian coffee growers, with the assistance of the Catholic church, are coping with the impacts of climate change. I’m here to support that effort, and will do some shooting on my own, as well.

(Photos by Bill Gentile)

07.Camila coffee

08.CRS tour


09a.Andres Montenegro plants