Doing Good, Works: Cobán, Guatemala
Doing Good, Works: Cobán, Guatemala
Since 2007, Frontier Co-op has partnered with FEDECOVERA, a cooperative in Cobán, Guatemala, to source our organic turmeric, cardamom and allspice. More than a supplier, FEDECOVERA has been a vital partner as we work to expand economic opportunities and provide essential social services to indigenous farming communities in the surrounding area.
Through investments in both their business and their communities, we’ve helped FEDECOVERA’s cooperative members expand and add value to their production capabilities. We’ve also provided support for essential human services to more than 100,000 people in the region, proving that doing good, works — both as a philosophy and a business model.
Welcome to Cobán
Nestled in the Chamá Mountains in northern Guatemala lies Cobán, a centuries-old community surrounded by evergreen forests, coffee plantations and rare orchids.
Cobán’s residents have taken great care to preserve its indigenous Mayan culture, and today, you’re more likely to hear people conversing in Q'eqchi' and Poqomchi' than Spanish.
Here, the ever-present chipi chipi — a Q'eqchi' phrase for the region’s distinct misty rainfall — helps create ideal conditions for growing some of the world’s most coveted spices, including cardamom, allspice and, most recently, turmeric.
Since 1976, the FEDECOVERA cooperative has worked to connect residents to this land, its unique history and its modern potential.
An umbrella offers this Cobán resident dual protection from the sun and the chipi chipi — the name the Q'eqchi' give to the region’s unique rainfall.
Boys trek through Cobán’s lush evergreen forest, an extraordinary playground that provides economic opportunities for their families, who farm organic turmeric sourced by Frontier Co-op.
FEDECOVERA + Frontier Co-op: A Partnership That Keeps Evolving
FEDECOVERA is a second-level cooperative group made up of 42 first-level co-ops and 120 organized small-scale growers’ groups. They represent nearly 100,000 indigenous Mayan Q'eqchi' and Poqomchi' growers, their families and the community at large — all of whom benefit from the cooperative’s wide-reaching impact.
FEDECOVERA’s goal is to build and support economic opportunities for its members by increasing access to life-changing health, educational, financial, legal and agricultural services.
In 2009, Frontier Co-op began its relationship with FEDECOVERA — an enduring partnership that continues to grow and evolve with the needs of the Cobán community. In the last 13 years, Frontier Co-op has contributed more than $376,000 to business- and community-building projects with FEDECOVERA, touching all aspects of life in the region.
“Frontier started in 1976 — it happened to be the same year that FEDECOVERA started,” said Tony Bedard, Frontier Co-op’s CEO.
“It’s important [for us] to find a partner that is doing things in a socially responsible and sustainable way…and it’s actually quite inspiring to see what our farming partners are doing in the Cobán area.”
A farmer shows off her crop of cardamom, a premium spice. As a member of the FEDECOVERA cooperative, she has access to a range of supports — from dental care to financial and legal assistance.
Expanding Access to Medical and Dental Care
Since many FEDECOVERA members work in remote parts of the region, access to essential health and social services is few and far between — a problem FEDECOVERA and Frontier Co-op have teamed up to address.
In 2015, Frontier Co-op provided a $33,000 grant to FEDECOVERA to open a brick-and-mortar dental clinic in Cobán. To date, that clinic has logged more than 6,800 individual visits, and despite some pandemic-related setbacks, it has grown to the point where they were able to hire a clinic manager.
To reach FEDECOVERA members who live hours from Cobán, in 2021, Frontier Co-op deepened its investment with an additional $80,000 to fund a mobile clinic. On special field days, the mobile clinic ventures out to surrounding communities, making preventative care accessible to all who need it.
“We are able to provide top-quality care thanks to the resources that Frontier has provided us,” said Enrique González Sierra, a doctor at FEDECOVERA Health Service Center. “We can even give a consultation at half the price that people would get in a private clinic.”
In October 2022, Tony Bedard and Frontier Co-op VP of Marketing Laura Kuykendall visited our partners at FEDECOVERA to celebrate the first trips taken by the mobile clinic into rural farming communities. Here, they were greeted by patients and their families eager to share a kind word:
“I am very grateful for the opportunity that they give us to take care of our health,” said Graciela Che, a member of the Cooperative Santa Maria San Marcos, R.L., who visited the mobile clinic.
(R.L. is the abbreviation for Responsabilidad Limitada, meaning limited liability corporation.)
A woman receives care at the dental clinic that opened in Cobán, thanks in part to a $33,000 grant from Frontier Co-op.
Patients wait for their turn outside the mobile health clinic, which makes field visits to remote growing communities.
A woman has her blood pressure checked inside the new mobile health clinic.
Expanding Economic Opportunity
In 2014, Frontier Co-op began working with FEDECOVERA to establish organic turmeric production. While turmeric is not native to Guatemala, Cóban’s mountainous terrain has favorable growing conditions similar to India, offering growers heavily invested in cash crops like coffee a new way to diversify and manage their risks.
For two years, FEDECOVERA worked with its members to build an initial base of 200 turmeric farms. With cultivation established by 2016, FEDECOVERA turned to installing the infrastructure needed for turmeric’s unique blanching and drying processes.
Frontier Co-op co-funded the processing facilities, and now sources the dried turmeric produced there. This not only ensures a consistent supply of turmeric for our customers, but also allows FEDECOVERA’s members to capture the value created through processing at origin.
“Generally, in the market, there is the one who sells and the one who buys,” said Leonardo Delgado, CEO, FEDECOVERA, R.L. “Frontier goes beyond that.”
A grower cradles the vibrant pink flower of the Curcuma longa — a turmeric plant.
A turmeric farmer inspects the fruits of their latest harvest.
Sharing Knowledge, Adding Value
FEDECOVERA’s business support services include primary raw material processing and export assistance. But historically, they’ve lacked the capability to help members perform secondary processing activities like steam pasteurization.
As a result, products were sold to international customers who then provided the value-added work in their own countries — a missed opportunity for growers in Cobán.
In 2021, Frontier Co-op set out to equip FEDECOVERA’s cooperative members with the support and tools needed to perform these secondary processing activities (pasteurization, grinding and sterile handling) in Guatemala. With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Cooperative Development Program (CDP), Frontier Co-op and FEDECOVERA co-invested capital into facilities, allowing FEDECOVERA’s members to do this value-added work themselves.
Living Up to Our Principles: Cooperation Among Co-ops
Frontier Co-op is driven by our mission to nourish people and planet. To bring this to life, it’s essential that we partner with organizations that share our mission and expand our capacity to make a difference.
Our partnership with FEDECOVERA exemplifies how cooperatives can work together to stretch our impact far beyond what we could do alone.
“We have a stated purpose in our company that ‘Doing Good, Works.’ Our partnership with FEDECOVERA is really building on that very premise. All of this is synergy,” said Tony Bedard.
“If you do good and it works, you do more good and it works some more. There’s so much energy around the co-op movement, so much pride in what they do, it’s nothing short of contagious. I’m very optimistic that FEDECOVERA and Frontier Co-op can continue to grow together — just like we have since 2009.”
Laura Kuykendall (far left) and Tony Bedard (center) stand with cardamom farmers who are part of the FEDECOVERA cooperative.
Led by Laura Kuykendall, the Frontier Co-op and FEDECOVERA teams head into the forest to check up on a crop of organic turmeric.