The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps announced on 10 December that Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) and Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) joined an alliance to improve the lives of small-scale farmers and their families in Guatemala. The alliance, known as the Inclusive Market Alliance for Rural Entrepreneurs (IMARE), is part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Presidential Initiative that supports Guatemala’s “Zero Hunger Pact” to significantly reduce the high rates of poverty and chronic malnutrition that characterize the Western Highland region of the country. The public-private alliance supports community-based interventions that allow rural agriculture producers to overcome barriers and access larger commercial markets. Evidence demonstrates that this support enables small scale farmers to increase their household food and nutritional security, the groups said in a joint statement. “We have seen the power of this alliance create tremendous opportunities for small-scale farmers to become productive and prosperous entrepreneurs,” said Peter Loach, Mercy Corps Country Director for Guatemala, in the statement. “We are thrilled to be able to expand this project to now meet the needs of vulnerable coffee producers and their families in the region.” The statement cited a United Nations World Food Program study that said Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in Latin America and the fourth highest in the world. Rural small-scale farmers in Guatemala are known to face multiple obstacles to access profitable markets for their products and often lack the tools and knowledge to improve their family’s nutrition, according to the study. The groups said that this alliance uses a multi-pronged approach that not only tackles rural poverty but also raises community awareness around the importance of a diversified diet and good nutrition practices. “GMCR is a believer in the power of public-private partnerships and their ability to enlist needed resources to overcome some of the developing world’s greatest challenges,” said Rick Peyser, GMCR’s Director of Social Advocacy and Supply Chain Community Outreach. “We are pleased to join USAID in supporting this Mercy Corps project in Guatemala that seeks to provide small-scale coffee farmers with better market access as they attempt to diversify their sources of income.” The three-year grant from GMCR will expand the alliance to work with 500 coffee farming families to improve nutrition as well as agricultural production and business management techniques. Farmers will participate in tailored educational sessions on safe handling of pesticides, use of new varieties, seed spacing, water and social conservation, and best practices for storage and handling. They will also receive training and technical assistance in nutrition, climate change and gender balance as a best practice. GMCR’s financial support also helps leverage matching funds from USAID’s Global Development Alliance for public-private partnerships. Mark Visocky, Director of the Office of Economic Growth at USAID Guatemala, said in the statement: “The alliance with GMCR brings substantial resources to bear in Guatemala for the Feed the Future Initiative and brings us all closer to the goal of reducing chronic malnutrition and poverty in the Western Highlands. USAID Guatemala welcomes and encourages new alliances with the private sector to assist the people of the Western Highlands escape the cycle of poverty and malnutrition that has plagued the region for decades.” Mercy Corps will also work in close coordination with HRNS, an expert implementer in the coffee value chain, to improve the principal livelihood activity of coffee farmers in an efficient and sustainable way. Through matching funds from HRNS the alliance will support an additional 300 coffee-producing families to improve production, natural resource management, and economic returns in their coffee systems. Trainings aim to provide the tools necessary to help farmers increase profitable sales and lift themselves out of poverty. “Coffee makes up a significant share of family income in these communities,” says Verena Fischersworring from HRNS. Her colleague Mauro García adds “Improving the returns to coffee farming – especially in combination with improved on-farm food production and household nutrition – thus forms an essential component of any strategy to improve food security.” Since 2008, USAID and Mercy Corps have supported rural, poor and subsistence farmers to compete in the larger commercial markets for fresh fruits and vegetables. In the past, USAID and Mercy Corps have partnered with Wal-Mart and Vibrant Villages as well as other private sector entities, which benefited 1,800 farmers in one of the poorest areas of Central America. Through this alliance, nearly 900 new jobs were created and a strong foundation was built for women to contribute to their households and communities. Of the new jobs created during the program’s first three years, 25% were held by women. After the first three years, producer groups increased their net earnings by an average of 59% and boosted their sales to formal markets by $1.2 million.