A fellow working to commercialize cacao in Q’eqchi Maya communities in Southern Petén
Madeline (top row, third from left) and some Q’eqchi Maya leaders selling chocolate at the Feria de Tourismo in Flores, Guatemala
Madeline Weeks is a PhD student in Geography from UC Davis who studies the social and environmental dimensions of fine flavor chocolate production, cacao value chains and farmer livelihoods. In summer 2017, she did a RIFA fellowship at Fundación ProPetén in Guatemala, where she spearheaded a project to produce and commercialize cacao in Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in Southern Petén.
Madeline’s project was unique among most RIFA fellowships because her objectives combined research and applied action. In her first month in-country, she worked closely with the women’s chocolate network – making visits to three cacao communities, running a design-logo making workshop, creating packaging and testing chocolate recipes. They prepared and packaged 60 pounds of artisanal chocolate to introduce at a tourist fair in Flores. Madeline also explored pricing options with the women to determine premium prices that directly benefit the communities.
Her second month in Guatemala, Madeline focused on assessing the changes in cacao farmer livelihoods since the introduction of the cacao project in 2011. Building upon a baseline survey, Madeline designed a longitudinal study to capture differences in the social and economic conditions of about 100 cacao-farming participants. She also added questions about income from sales of cacao and chocolate. Madeline and a UC Davis Blum grantee then conducted initial pilot studies in two of the cacao farming communities. After some modifications to the survey, she worked with the ProPetén staff and a team of community leaders to administer the survey, while Madeline input and analyzed the results.
This project was not been without its challenges, including some common to international development projects. Madeline entered into a project that involved long-established relationships, class and cultural differences, combined with the challenges of meeting the deadlines of a three-month project. She acknowledged that her position as a foreigner poses unique challenges especially when interacting with indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ communities. Another challenge was coordinating the household survey schedule since the communities were three hours away from Madeline’s place of work, and survey respondents (farmers) were not available during the day. Madeline overcame this challenge by developing documents for ProPetén staff to use for training local leaders on household accounting, which could eventually act in lieu of traditional survey methods.
Madeline plans to stay involved in the project and support ProPetén with their overarching mission to generate income for smallholder farming families and promote farming practices that support agrobiodiversity. She is happy to connect anyone interested in learning more about the women’s chocolate-making process to increase the scope of the project. For more information about Fundación ProPetén and the chocolate project please visit the Fundación ProPetén website or contact Madeline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Kate Wilkins.