PERU: Coffee Growers Cultivate Education

  • by Milza Hinostroza* - Tierramérica (junÍn, peru)
  • Inter Press Service
  • Tierramérica

Coffee production has gained ground in Peru in recent years: it is the main export crop, the livelihood of 160,000 families in the coffee-growing region of Selva Alta, and a 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 totalled 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 the 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 efforts have put Peru in first place in the world in production of organic coffee, free of chemical-based fertilisers 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, the 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 an hour long, along trails cut through the dense jungle vegetation. 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 kilometre 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 are already being seen in this area," she added.

Scant resources

The Ministry of Education handles policy with decentralised bodies like the Regional Education Boards (DRE) and the Local Management Units, entrusted with administering and overseeing 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 Jaime Soriano, a teacher in the Satipo 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 Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and 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 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 allotted us a few books but we haven't received 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 conditions here.

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.

Getting busy

In response, the coffee growers have taken up the talks of promoting education for their children.

In the Community-Managed Educational Centres, the parents pay the teachers' salaries and cover 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 centre, run by its members, who are small coffee growers, with the support of international aid.

Children between three and five years old attend the centre, which is 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 or not they are members of the cooperative.

"The cooperative aims to optimise the quality and production of coffee, but also the human relations of its members.

From our isolated location we are making a first step towards improving education," Marta Janampa, the president of the cooperative, said in an interview with Tierramérica.

According to Félix Marín, an adviser to the cooperative, the hope is that "the rest of the coffee organisations replicate the experience of the daycare centre or community-run schools."

But he said that what is needed is a commitment from authorities, "because many coffee and farming cooperatives are performing the role that the government should play." 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 were able pay for their children to attend the school.

But the decline in coffee prices that began in 1998 made the project unsustainable "and we had to sell the school."

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.) (END/IPS/LA DV SU ED IN CF TA AG/TRASP-LD-SW/MH/08)

© Inter Press Service (2008) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service