and teachers of the Alto Palomar community-run school, in Peru.
Credit: Milza Hinostroza/IPS
Peruvian Coffee Growers Cultivate Education
By Milza Hinostroza, Special to Tierramérica
At the epicenter of Peru's coffee boom, small producers are fighting poverty and the lack of public schooling.
JUNÍN, Peru, Dec 29 (Tierramérica).- "Without coffee there is no future," say coffee growers in the Selva Alta, in the central Peruvian region of Junín, where they are setting up schools near their farms so that their children don't abandon their studies.
Coffee production has gained ground in Peru in recent years: it is the main export crop, livelihood of 160,000 families in the coffee-growing regions of Selva Alta, and source of employment for another two million people along the production chain.
Ninety-five percent of Peru's coffee is sold abroad. In 2007, sales totaled 415 million dollars and, according to projections from the National Coffee Council, the leading small producers union, in 2008 will reach 600 million dollars -- 10 times the revenues this crop brought in 1993.
The leading role is played by small farmers in family operations with about five hectares of coffee each, planted and harvested by hand. Their effort has put Peru in first place in the world in production of organic coffee, free of chemical-based fertilizers or pesticides.
But in the coffee sector, not all that glitters is gold.
The boom is attracting more families, and complicating the already difficult situation of educating children in the coffee-growing areas of 10 departments in Peru. There is a lack of transportation and roads, and often there are not enough schools or educational materials.
LONG ROAD TO SCHOOL
"My farm is in the annex of San Pablo de Quimotari, in the Pangoa district," young Norma Huaringa, daughter of coffee growers in Satipo province, in Junín, tells Tierramérica.
"That's where I went to primary school. But every day I had to walk a half-hour from my house to my little school. I finished primary school and I studied at the secondary school of the district, but there, too, I had to go from my house to the town on motorcycle, or sometimes on foot," she says.
It is not unusual in Chanchamayo or Satipo provinces to spot young girls and boys walking quickly in order to get to school on time, or returning home after class.
For some, the walk is more than one hour, along trails cut through the dense vegetation of the jungle. The children face dangers ranging from snake bites to sexual abuse, or simply losing their footing on a riverbank on their way to school.
"The children live in the countryside and attend schools that can be more than a kilometer away, but when they reach secondary school age, there are other problems," Esperanza Dionisio, manager of the Pangoa Coffee Cooperative, told Tierramérica.
"Some are brought on motorcycle, in order to keep an eye on them, because there is a higher propensity for drug addiction and gangs, which is already being seen in this area," she added.
The Ministry of Education handles policy with decentralized bodies like the Regional Education Boards (DRE) and the Local Management Units, entrusted with administering and assessing the local schools.
The central jungle is where 33 percent of Junín's schools are located: some 1,300, public and private, ranging from nursery schools to higher education, according to the 2007-2008 educational statistics brief published by the regional board.
Ninety-five percent of the schools are in rural zones, says professor Jaime Soriano, of the Satipo statistical area.
The demand for schools has grown a great deal, he said: "In 2006 more than 74 educational institutions of different levels were created. Despite that, there is a need for more because the 'social problems' of the 1980s led people to leave the area, and now they are returning with their families."
From 1980 to 2000, Peru suffered an internal war between government forces and the insurgent Maoist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).
Today, there are very few rural schools with adequate infrastructure, according to Soriano. Books and other materials are scarce because "the government budget is limited."
Education Minister José Antonio Chang announced in October a 4.3 percent increase in the education budget for 2009. But the budget is barely three percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and does not comply with the gradual increase established in the General Law on Education.
NOT ENOUGH SCHOOL, OR FOOD
In the indigenous Yánesha community of Alto Yurinaki, in Chachamayo province, school 64441 has 28 students, who meet in two classrooms, each with one teacher.
"This year the government has given us a few books but we haven't obtained them because the paperwork is very costly," says teacher Nancy Medina. "We are a bit forgotten. We don't have chalk or educational materials, perhaps because they aren't aware of our reality. Their priority is the city."
There are other reasons for the poor status of education in coffee regions.
The basic diet in the indigenous communities and for nearly the entire rural population is based on subsistence products like plantains, manioc and maize. Few can afford a more balanced diet, or meat and milk every day.
According to a 2005 national study of school children ages six to nine, 83 percent of those in Junín with chronic malnutrition live in Huancayo, Chanchamayo, Satipo, Jauja and Tarma.
Satipo is among the three provinces with the most chronic malnutrition, according to the study.
In response, the coffee growers have taken up the talks of promoting education for their children. In the Community-Managed Educational Centers, the parents pay the teachers' salaries and for certain infrastructure expenses, sometimes with the support of local authorities, while the government is in charge of hiring staff, certifying the school and providing some materials.
Soriano notes that the parents are making great sacrifices because they are taking responsibility for many aspects of the schools "and are taking on the expense despite their limited resources."
Four years ago, the Alto Palomar Ecological Agrarian Cooperative, in San Luis de Shuaro, Chanchamayo, set up an educational daycare center, run by its members, small coffee growers, and with the support of international aid.
Children between three and five years old attend. The classrooms are near the cooperative. Monday through Friday there are classes, recreation and meals for the young children, allowing mothers to work on their coffee plots, whether they are members of the cooperative or not.
"The cooperative aims to optimize the quality and production of coffee, but also the humanity of its members. From our isolated location we are making a first step towards improving education," cooperative president Marta Janampa said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
According to cooperative advisor Félix Marín, it is hoped that "the rest of the coffee organizations replicate the experience of the daycare center or of community-run schools."
But, he notes, what is needed is a commitment from authorities, "because many coffee and farming cooperatives are performing the role that the government should have."
In Satipo, 66 community-run schools are operating -- 46 of them in indigenous communities.
In 1986, the Pangoa Coffee Cooperative launched a cooperative secondary school, according to Dionisio. The public education system was deficient and coffee prices were high, so the parents could pay for their children to attend the school.
But the decline in coffee prices beginning in 1998 made the project unsustainable "and we had to sell the school."