New mobile medical clinic keeps Guatemalan farmers connected to Iowa co-op

New mobile medical clinic keeps Guatemalan farmers connected to Iowa co-op

Farm cooperative member Elvira Chen (center) receives medical treatment from Silvia Maribel Cu Cu (left), assistant of the Health Service Center of FEDECOVERA, and Dr. Gualfe Enrique Gonzalez Sierra (right), in a new mobile medical clinic. The clinic, which will be available to Guatemalan farmers this year, was secured by a capital investment from Iowa’s Frontier Co-op. (Border Cooperative)

Elsa Marina Chen Yat (left), a secretary-receptionist for the health service center of FEDECOVERA, assists a patient in Guatemala. Medical care funding from Iowa’s Frontier Co-op this year helped secure a new mobile clinic for Guatemalan farmers part of the FEDECOVERA network. (Border Cooperative)

Tony Bedard, CEO of Frontier Co-op in Norway, Iowa, investigates cardamom in the Coban area of ​​Guatemala with Vilma Mariela Cu, board member of the Cooperative of Environmental Services Young Entrepreneurs. (Border Cooperative)

Workers process cardamom pods in a Guatemalan facility that is part of the FEDECOVERA network of farming cooperatives. Iowa’s Frontier Co-op sources a variety of spices from Guatemala and other countries around the world, including India and Sri Lanka. This year, a new mobile medical clinic funded by Frontier is helping to meet the needs of workers. (Border Cooperative)

Sonia Zuleyka Kol Perez holding a basket of cardamom. Farmers like her in the FEDECOVERA network of farming cooperatives in Guatemala are now taking advantage of a new mobile medical clinic secured for Guatemalan farmers through funding from Iowa’s Frontier Cooperative. Perez is an associate member of the cooperative Santo Domingo las Cuevas, RL (Frontier Co-op)

COBAN, Guatemala – When a farmer member of an Iowa cooperative needs medical care, they drive to the nearest clinic or provider. But when your farmers are in a rural part of a developing country, high-quality roads, transportation and affordability are barriers to a service that many American farmers take for granted.

When most of your crop is grown in countries like Guatemala, new solutions are needed for a sustainable supply chain. With a commitment of $80,000, Frontier Co-op in Norway, Iowa, demonstrates the important role cooperatives play in feeding the world.

Earlier this year, Frontier launched a new project with their long-time Guatemalan procurement partner FEDECOVERA, making capital expenditures to fund a new mobile clinic that will provide accessible, low-cost medical and dental care to cooperative farmers who are an important source of the Iowa -company’s cardamom, turmeric and coffee.

FEDECOVERA, a procurement partner for Frontier since 2009, is a group made up of 42 smaller cooperatives that support about 100,000 farmers, mostly indigenous Mayan farming families. Over the course of their partnership, Frontier has contributed more than $376,000 to business and community building projects with them.

It started with a 2015 brick-and-mortar dental clinic in Coban.

“They came to us in 2015 and said business is going well, and we have good medical care for farm families, but we need dental,” says Tony Bedard, CEO of Frontier Co-op. “We’ve had a lot of good success, but it’s really a rural community.”

About three to four hours by car from Guatemala City, the mountainous region’s farmers often require four-wheel-drive transportation and a significant amount of time to reach medical care providers in other areas.

“For people to leave farms and take jobs off for preventive care, we didn’t get return visits (to the brick-and-mortar clinic),” Bedard said. “People weren’t getting the care they needed.”

The new mobile clinic project, chosen as an extension of their long-standing partnership with the group of co-ops, is not considered a charity or even a business investment – it is a community building project.

In addition to business building projects that help modernize Guatemala’s farming and processing capabilities, community projects play a key role in keeping a population on the map and giving them access to international markets they might not otherwise be able to reach.

The investments make a difference not only in terms of preventive medical care, but also in improving the quality of life of rural Guatemalan communities in the area, said Gabriela Delgado, logistics and marketing manager of FEDECOVERA.

“Having this kind of investment has a big impact on decentralization of high-quality services that can usually be found (in) the consuming countries (but) not the producing countries,” she said. “This is a step forward to continue to add value to the products that our cooperative partners…produce to access better markets…”

In a globalized economy, that type of partnership is critical to think beyond the scope of one country or another.

But what’s more, the continued partnership between a farming state and a country where 49 percent of the population lives in rural areas shows that good business sense and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive – taking into account human needs is part of a smart business. acumen.

“Our co-ops generally have much more stable platforms,” ​​Bedard said. “It’s a full recognition that you can do things the right way and get a lot more out of them. … We’re just trying to make sure that our farmer friends in Guatemala are there for us in the future, that they can be healthy and happy.”

Besides a good supply chain, the project has ripple effects abroad and at home in Iowa.

Abroad, Bedard said the holistic business practices help Guatemalans provide for themselves with meaningful work, reducing the need to immigrate thousands of miles from Central America’s Northern Triangle to make a living that will provide for their families .

In that sense, farming around the world is not much different from farming in Iowa – farmers and their children need to be able to make a living on their land. On small plots of land with little mechanization, labor-intensive spices in Guatemala walk a finer line to remain profitable.

More than 12 percent of the world’s population is employed by cooperatives such as FEDECOVERA and Frontier.

“Going into that community in the mountains and seeing most of the families walking their way in, waiting in line for the clinic … it’s a small part of making their lives better,” Bedard said.

But even at home, where people drive relatively short distances for medical care, it gives employees at Frontier purpose in a landscape where businesses face more challenges than ever to attract and retain employees.

“It helps us as a company to live out our purpose. We find this purpose-driven work an excellent tool for retention and attraction,” said the CEO. “Everyone wants good pay and benefits. But at the end of the day, our employees leave knowing they dug wells and helped with dentistry or education.”

“That’s a big part of the ripple effect for me,” he said.

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