Hope and coffee in Colombia

In Colombia, Hope Smells of Coffee Beans

When people suffer, we want to help. Even a small act makes a difference to a person in need. Maybe the only thing we can give is a hug, a few words of encouragement, or perhaps a smile. Those tiny acts can seem like very little, but they can change a lonely child’s world, comfort an elderly person, or convince a single mother that she can make it through another tough day.

Most people who visit Colombia are aware of the armed conflict that has been going on for decades and the suffering it has produced. I’ve met an enormous number of people who have come to help. Perhaps they work with the government. Or perhaps an NGO. They may come with peace groups and initiatives from Europe or the United States. They all have just one main purpose; to alleviate the suffering of others in some way, large or small. To make daily life just one bit better for those who have suffered so much.

And as with many conflicts, the one in Colombia has most desperately affected the farmers. The mostly poor people who don’t have a fat savings account to turn to when their crops are burned down or their home is destroyed in war. The farmers who are paid so little because people don’t value the hard work they do.

Hope and Coffee

Specialty crops can be a way to turn things around. When consumers are willing to pay for a superior product, farmers may get a benefit. In Colombia, high-quality coffee is a natural alternative to turn to. After all, Colombia has been growing coffee – and very good coffee – since the early 1700s. The country has excellent geography for coffee production, and in spite of decades of war and violence, coffee production has thrived.

Now Colombia faces a new challenge: how can farmers make coffee production more profitable in a world economy that seeks the lowest prices? Forward-thinking coffee growers and others in the industry turn their eyes to specialty coffee. The dramatic growth of the specialty coffee industry in the United States (a nearly

The dramatic growth of the specialty coffee industry in the United States (a nearly 50% growth for specialty coffee shops) shows that the specialty coffee sector can mean more earnings for a farmer.  When coffee producers can sell their coffee as a specialty product, those earnings can be as much as 20, 40, or even 50% more for the same amount of coffee. And if a farmer is able to produce an award-winning coffee, their near future can be drastically changed.

Hope. Hope in the form of a small brown seed.

Like most of you reading this article, I’m not a coffee exporter. I don’t work for an NGO and I don’t get to make big decisions about how farmers are paid. So how can I spread this hope? Spread this certainty that there is a way for farmers to earn more? Do my little part in making it a bit easier for coffee farmers to provide for their families? How can you help?

Coffee harvester photo courtesy of Neil Palmer via Flickr

Don’t buy cheap coffee

Think about it. When you spend just $2.50 on a pound of coffee, how much do you think the coffee farmer earned?

He or she worked for months to produce that coffee. From flower to seed, a coffee crop takes about a year to process (not to mention the 3-5 years a coffee plant takes to become commercially viable). Most Colombian coffee farms are small family-owned businesses of less than one hectare. Small farms mean small yields. When you pay so little for coffee, the farmer’s small yield means they can’t pay for the basics their family needs.

That doesn’t mean you should buy ridiculously high priced coffees, either. For one thing, they may not even taste good. The high price might be just a name that was slapped on a bag of mediocre coffee. And even worse, the farmer may never see an increase in prices.

The key is to seek out coffee companies that are producing true specialty coffee, ensuring you a fantastic brew while working for the interests of coffee farmers. It can be as simple as checking out the company’s website or talking with the baristas at your favorite café to see what value they place on the work of the farmer.

Does it take more time, a deeper interest, and a desire to ease the difficult life of people in rural areas?

Yes. But it’s one of the small ways we can extend our hand to help a country battered by violence. It’s our way of smiling and hugging a coffee farmer and whispering these words of encouragement: “You are worth it. Thank you.”

Learn more about specialty coffee with Flavors of Bogota Specialty Coffee Experiences! Click here to find out what you can learn with us.

Photo courtesy of Niel Palmer CIAT via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Niel Palmer (CIAT) via Flickr

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