Monday, December 19, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

Whether you learned about the butterfly effect in Literary History 101 or from the great Ashton Kutcher film, we are experiencing our own butterfly effect here in Uspantan.

Cardamom is a spice used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking and drinks. Often considered a delicacy when infused in teas. Guatemala is one of the worlds largest exporters of this plant, most of which goes to the ME. The majority of cardamom plantations in Guatemala are located in the northern region of Uspantan, the Zona Reina. From October to January, the men of this region work 7-day weeks harvesting the cardamom and selling to exporters who dry, package and ship the spice. Speaking with the health promoters that I work with in this region, I have found that the majority of a family's yearly income is made during these 4 months of harvesting.

Last year a pound of freshly cut cardamom was sold for 15 ($2)Quetzales to companies that would then dry and export. This year the price has dropped to 3 Questzales (.40 cents). Thus leaving the families of the Zona Reina essentially 4/5th poorer than they were last year.

This sudden and devastating drop is due to various factors affecting the market. First, because cardamom has been so profitable over the past years, production, especially in India, has consistently risen to meet demand. Thus Guatemalan cardamom is competing with a much closer producer of the spice. Secondly, and most importantly, the unforseen uprisings in the Middle East have disrupted the market and demand for cardamom. The Middle Eastern market has been flooded with an abundance of the spice but there are few interested in buying.

And there we have our butterfly effect. Egypt's Facebook revolution set a series of events into play that have landed an entire community here in Uspantan struggling to make ends meet this year.

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