Coffee for generations: Colombian coffee farmers’ perseverance and environmental care
Oikocredit partner organisation Red Ecolsierra has enabled coffee farmers in Colombia to receive fair prices and increase the quality and quantity of production despite the violence and unrest that filled the region for decades.
Founding members Paulino Sanchez Samaniego and his wife Lourdes López Balaguera joined Red Ecolsierra, an association of small-scale organic coffee growers, 20 years ago. Since joining, Paulino says: “We were able to improve the farm and earn a better income. We invested the profit of the plantation in the farm and in the education of our children.”
Paulino and Lourdes live and work on their coffee plantation Finca El Brazo de Dios in Vereda Minca, Santa Marta, with two of their ten children. Lourdes inherited the farm from her parents, and both her own and Paulino’s family have been growing coffee here for several generations. Paulino and Lourdes also persevered and held onto their land in the midst of turbulent times.
Colombia's internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958. More than four of every five victims have been civilian, and many civilians lost or were forced off their land.* Paulino says: “The main challenge we have been facing is 20 to 25 years of violence caused by the guerrillas and paramilitary. They wanted to take over the farms and some of our neighbours were scared so they gave in. We didn’t. For the last 15 years the situation has been improving.”
In 2017, FARC (the most influential guerrilla group) and the Colombian government signed a peace agreement, where they agreed to a cease-fire and an end to all violence. Talks are still in process towards the same end with a minor guerrilla group (ELN). Overall there has been significant progress and social change in recent years, bringing more stability to the region.
Coffee is Paulino and Lourdes’ main crop, covering three and a half hectares. They also grow flowers and raise chickens to supplement their income. The chicken manure and coffee skins in turn are used as fertiliser for the coffee and the flowers, providing a sustainable and environmentally friendly cycle of cultivation.
Red de Productores Ecológicos de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Red Ecolsierra) is an association of small-scale organic coffee growers located in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. The coffee growing region has a high poverty rate, and only 30% of the population has reached a secondary level of education.
Oikocredit has partnered with Red Ecolsierra since 2011 to support the coffee harvest. This partnership enables Red Ecolsierra to pay its 408 members fair prices. With a guarantee of fair payment, the majority of the members funnel their coffee through the association, which strengthens the association’s position to negotiate a good price on the international market.
Helping farmers manage coffee price risks
Oikocredit also provides support to its coffee partner organisations through the Price Risk Management (PRM) programme, which it runs in cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Fair Trade USA, Keurig Green Mountain and Catholic Relief Services. Red Ecolsierra is joining the next round of training taking place in Peru this month.
This three-year capacity building project supports smallholder coffee farmers facing unstable incomes due to fluctuations of the world market price for coffee. The project’s objective is to equip 16 coffee producers’ organisations with the skills and tools needed to better manage the risks associated with volatile markets, including stock management and offset hedging.
Farming and environmental sustainability go hand in hand
In addition to ensuring high-quality organic products receive fair competitive rates on international and local markets, Oikocredit highly values the association’s commitment to promoting farming practices that ensure the conservation, recovery and protection of natural resources.
With the help of Red Ecolsierra, Paulino and Lourdes have installed a water purifying facility, a requirement for organic certification. The extra income from fair trade premiums helped expand their home and raise capital to invest in coffee processing machines. The cooperative also arranges monthly meetings to provide technical support on producing organic fertiliser, best practices for washing and planting coffee, and water purification.
As for the future, Paulino and Lourdes hope to keep doing the work they love: growing high quality coffee and flowers, while caring for their land in a way that will benefit many generations to come.
* Information taken from The National Centre of Historical Memory’s Colombian government report from 2013: “Enough Already: Memories of War and Dignity”. The Centre was created under a 2011 law designed to indemnify victims of the conflict and return stolen land. For more information: http://www.centrodememoriahistorica.gov.co/en/about-the-national-center-about-the-national-center/content/60-english-version