Origin trips aren't usually solo pursuits, they can sometimes be like going on a school trip with friends who you haven't yet met! Like minded people from the coffee world who geek out on the same stuff and have the same values, ethical business goals and desire for knowledge and progress at the top end of our niche quality obsessed specialty coffee industry.
This trip to Colombia was no different from our previous origin experiences... except instead of being the minority female owned roastery on the trip, this trip was aimed at connecting female coffee farmers to female coffee roasters/green bean buyers (and vice versa!), bringing woman together with transparency and a more balanced view of that sometimes blurry supply chain!
Always an educational experience on many levels, this was the first trip by Dear Green to Colombia (where we buy A LOT of our coffee from). There was much to learn, and a bunch of awesome 'gringo' coffee chicas to learn from too!
It's not unusual to find an adventure around every corner in a coffee producing country, there is many an inspiring story which tells of successes against the odds. For each heartache there is a triumph but with continual challenges. In the El Tambo area of the Cauca region we witnessed ambitious woman coming together and being supported, championed, educated and encouraged to progress for the benefit of their families and community. Civil war in the area is in very recent memory, stories perhaps glamorised in the gritty Netflix drama are based on very real life experiences, it would be ignorant to think otherwise. Peace deals were agreed here as recently as November 2016.
In these underprivileged, rural and somewhat isolated communities coffee has been grown for decades but nowadays has been named by the ASMUCAFE (Women Coffee Producers Association) as their 'peace crop'. Coffee farming and processing has allowed them (with dedication and the correct support) to thrive, pull out their Coca plants, improve the quality of their coffee production and their lives and to live in peace. Something we too easily take for granted.
ASMUCAFE (Asociación de Mujeres Agropecuarias de Uribe)
ASMUCAFE has 140 members with an average farm size of ½ a hectare and appoints a legal representative and treasurer to lead the group. They are supported through alliances with the Colombian government (Minister of Agriculture) and commercial partners (Banexport) who offer security by paying a fixed base price (100,000 pesos per 12.5kg) for a better quality coffee. Since forming these alliances the association have been progressive enough to purchase a property to host members meetings in and to install a sensory lab. They have improved their pulping processes and have not only been hard working on their own farms but have collectively been proactive in identifying areas where they need to improve, find funding, seek training and implement new knowledge based techniques.
The group are continually trying to improve the quality of their output, as achieving a higher scoring coffee will bring a higher price. They produce two containers of coffee from seven communities in the region. 65% of their coffee is specialty grade, an increase from 20% when the program began! Next year brings further funding by USAID which will be supporting 150 members across 5 associations in the area. ASMUCAFE is a model for others to follow, a perfect case study of how to 'start from nothing and achieve a lot'. Improving quality of farmed coffee has improved lives following years of conflict.
What about the men?!
The male population in the community have jobs or work for their wives and are openly proud of the breakthrough their wives have made and the development it has brought to the area. The benefits are obvious. In the nearby 'long hill' area of San Joaquin, El Tambo they are affectionately referred to as the “Amaco's'' (husbands of the AMACA members) at the AMACA Woman Producers Association whose coffee Dear Green has been buying since 2017. Observers believe that the women's association helps to protect the family unit as the woman is the breadwinner and controls the household finances, previously it is suggested that the men would have spent the family earnings on beer!
AMACA (Asociación de Mujeres Productoras Agropecuarias del Cauca)
The AMACA coffee producing group is well established having formulated in 1999 but have only started receiving a premium for their coffee four years ago - a fixed price higher than the C Market when prices were at their lowest. The ladies of the AMACA program highlight to us not only the opportunities and their gratitude for the technical, agricultural and financial support they receive but also their challenges:
- Waiting for payments.
- Waiting for new coffee trees to bear fruit (three years).
- The need for a more robust drying structure to dry the coffee seeds once pulped from the cherry.
- The need for fruit trees to provide shade for the coffee trees as well as fruit to eat and trade.
- The logistics of getting their parchment coffee to the warehouse.
- Their frustrations with members who have joined to receive free equipment or funding (for stoves so that they no longer have to cook over an open fire) and then become inactive in the association.
Where there is much awareness by the producers is on the very noticeable climate issues. Water levels are affecting crops, humidity and rainfall negatively affect the ability to dry the parchment coffee well enough to maintain its quality of flavour. The microclimate of the area so suited to coffee cultivation for generations is now subject to fluctuations. The ultimate future of coffee production may be out of the control of the coffee farmer.
Meeting these farmers brought a new perspective to the opportunities and struggles involved in producing high quality coffees in this region. Equally the farmers heard the perspective of setting up a coffee roastery with zero finance and the hard work that follows and continues in finding the highest quality coffees available, investment in the best roasting and brewing equipment and in training of staff and customers.
The respect, appreciation and passion now flows both ways along our supply chain thanks to this event. We're humbled and privileged to continue to learn and to share this new found knowledge and story.
Try coffee from the AMACA Association here!