Just four years ago, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), bringing an end to nearly 60 years of civil war.
Colombia is starting to recover from decades of violence, yet the process is not easy. According to Human Rights Watch, it is second only to Syria in the number of internally displaced persons. It’s also the world’s seventh-worst country for income equality, and food insecurity is a widespread issue, especially in rural areas.
Coffee can play a role in supporting the country’s recovery – or it can hinder it.
Two million farmers grow coffee on Colombia’s mountainside farms. Good prices can result in a stable income for them and their families, and in turn, help to tackle poverty and rural food insecurity.
Yet many farmers are paid notoriously low amounts for specialty-grade coffee that is then sold at high prices in the US. The market rate for green coffee has crashed in recent years, meaning that many farmers are struggling to build a living income from their crops. This further pushes them and their communities into a precarious financial position.
The murky and confusing specialty coffee supply chain also means many well-meaning roasters do not know how much the coffee farmer actually receives. This means they could buy unethical coffee, despite their best intentions.
This is where iFinca comes in. iFinca offers traceability to the specific farmer that grew this coffee. The platform offers full transparency with verified farmgate prices, confirmed by the farmer, meaning that roasters know if the price they are paying is sustainable.
iFinca also gives the farmer a voice and a marketing platform through their farmer profiles. This allows them to build long relationships with roasters who have a social conscience.
iFinca works with coffee cooperatives and individual coffee farmers, some of whom are currently taking part in the three-year Coffee for Peace program.
Coffee for Peace works with Colombian farmers to improve their coffee’s value. Through the support of USAID, Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), and the Coffee Quality Institute, it operates in the six coffee-producing regions of Antioquia, Bolívar, Caquetá, Cauca, Meta and Valle – all of which are historic conflict zones.
Willem Boot is the Founder and CEO of coffee consultancy Boot Coffee, which helps by adding farmers in the Coffee for Peace initiative to the iFinca platform so that roasters can purchase their coffee. He says, “The focus is to improve the income of coffee farmers in Colombia’s coffee regions affected by violence through the production and sales of specialty coffee.”
The cycle of poverty and of violence in Colombia’s remote coffee regions can be broken by the creation of economic incentives through the production of specialty coffee and by developing job opportunities in the coffee sector.
For roasters, Coffee for Peace offers a way to support producers by buying great coffee. Chris Thele is Co-Founder at Kaleidoscope Craft Brew Coffee in Belleville, Illinois, where he roasts coffee and brews a craft cold coffee that is sold in cans. He sources his Coffee for Peace lots through iFinca. “We were looking for some unique coffee,” he says, “and the Coffee for Peace project just seemed like such a positive.”
He adds, “It creates unique opportunities to brighten our world. That is what this project is about: pursuing a better way that’s different than what’s been tried in the past.”
By June 2019, Coffee for Peace had trained more than 2,500 producers on topics such as coffee cherry ripeness and best practices for wet micro-milling. It has allowed them to improve the quality of their lots and attract specialty buyers. In fact, many of the farmers they work with are now achieving cupping scores of 85 and higher.
The benefits of Coffee for Peace will last for years, long after the project has finished. Farmers will be able to continue growing high-quality coffee, as well as passing their newfound knowledge down to future generations. And through the iFinca platform, they will maintain their market access and continue selling their coffee for higher prices.
Boot says, “Most coffee exported by Colombia is basically anonymous; the coffee cannot be traced back to the level of the community or to the level of the individual farmers.”
This is the main difficulty facing coffee roasters who believe in ethical sourcing. Yet buying coffee through the iFinca platform keeps farmers connected to the international market and helps maintain ethical, sustainable incomes. Roasters can see exactly how much was paid to the grower; farmers can see where their coffee ended up.
The family-run bwè kafe in Hoboken, New Jersey buys Coffee for Peace lots through iFinca, where they can see that the coffee farmer was paid $2.35/lb for green coffee. They focus on ethically sourced coffee and donate proceeds to a Haiti-based charity that helps fund scholarships.
Co-Owner Tatsu Mori-Ryan tells us, “We’ve always been mindful in selecting vendors and products to be in line with our mission – either supporting local businesses or communities in other parts of the world… Given our love for coffee, mission, and desire to always be open to new things, this discovery seemed destined to happen.”
He adds, “We were introduced to iFinca… to ensure that coffee farmers are paid two to three times the regular farmgate price. We are incredibly excited to be a part of it.”
Peace has been a long time coming in Colombia. The country is still grappling with the challenges of creating a society that benefits everyone. In the future, it will need to tackle the economic impact of COVID-19, while continuing to improve rural living conditions and opportunities.
Yet slowly but surely, progress is being made. And when coffee farmers have the necessary tools and market access to receive better prices for their high-grade coffee, they can build a stable livelihood, have better food security, and create a future for their families.