COVID-19 has had a permanent impact on the way the world works. While borders might be reopening and lockdowns lifting, the way that farmers grow and sell their coffee may not go back to the way it was before.
We spoke to producers from Antioquia, Colombia who are using the iFinca platform to find out about the challenges the pandemic has brought on, how they’ve tackled them, and what they’ve learned from it.
COVID-19 has impacted producers and made significant changes to how they usually work. Here are a few of these changes, and how they might impact their operations going forward.
As global travel restrictions were put in place, green coffee purchasing trips were cancelled. These trips are integral to helping producers build relationships and trust with buyers as well as generate coffee sales – something doubly challenging for producers without existing relationships with roasters.
Some producers have used this opportunity to integrate technology into their dealings with buyers. For example, iFinca acts as a platform that producers can use to directly connect with coffee buyers and build a relationship with them this way. Sebastian Ramirez, a producer from Finca El Placer, says that the platform also allows him to market and sell his green coffee
While online platforms are useful when face to face contact isn’t possible, many producers have found that they prefer its convenience. Maximiliano Vélez of Finca Vista Hermosa understands that the platform can make relationship-building easier and says “the crisis has demonstrated that the way to be productive is linked to cellphones and apps.” This indicates that secure online platforms can be an affordable and time-saving alternative to trips or trade shows.
An application like iFinca can also help producers market their product directly to consumers, to build awareness and demand directly from the market. Each coffee package comes with a ‘Meet the Farmer’ QR code that when scanned provides information on the coffee’s origin and producer. “This helps people learn who we are, how we produce coffee and the added value that we provide,” says Luz Eva Rojas, owner of Finca Doña Barva.
Colombia has two coffee harvests per year, and harvesting is a labor-intensive process. When COVID-19 closed many country borders, many producers were left without workers to harvest their coffee. Those that did manage to arrive at farms carried the risk of the infection with them. Luz says that it means producers have to be cautious about who they hire, as they could bring the virus to the farm, and outline, “when it comes to labor, we are now fearful of bringing unknown people to the farm.”
Luz explains that larger farms usually have more complex labor issues as their operations are more expensive. Larger farms usually rely more on external labor whereas smaller farms can employ family and neighbors. As a result, larger producers have faced delays in harvesting, processing, and sorting out their coffee.
Some smaller producers used the quarantine to fast-track their harvesting. Sebastian Ramirez and his team of 14 workers quarantined on the farm together. By having all workers on site, they were able to finish the harvest in less time than usual.
The restriction on movement also impacts how producers could get their coffee to the port for export. Sebastian Celis of La Hacienda Naranja, explains that to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reactivate local economies, the Colombian government announced “no-COVID” zones, restricting entry to locals or those with special permits. Sebastian tells us that the main problem was distributing coffee over borders into different zones. Without permits, coffee could not be transported and there would be delays, and many producers struggled to get these permits in the first place. Maximiliano has been unable to get one. “It has been complicated but we have been able to move our coffee and pay every worker.”
Labor and transportation issues and delays have affected many Colombian producers. However, those using iFinca have been more able to manage the process. By logging and registering every event occurring between production through to final sale, every supply chain member can be kept in the loop. Using the communication board present in the iFinca app, any important and time-sensitive news can be rapidly communicated. It’s something that could benefit producers in future, as they will be able to give buyers confidence in the status of their coffee at any given point, helping strengthen the relationship.
Producers often struggle with financial security due to the volatility of coffee prices and exchange rates. The final payment price for green coffee is also often unknown to producers.
During COVID-19, many producers faced delays in the supply chain leading to unknown payment dates and volatile prices. When producers are faced with this, it is difficult for them to plan for their future or improve their production processes.
Those who’ve adopted the iFinca platform have found that its pricing transparency helps reduce their financial insecurity and uncertainty, as it gives them knowledge of what they’ll be paid, when they’ll be paid, and how much they’ll be paid.
Using iFinca, producers and buyers can negotiate a fixed price for their coffee, and once entered into the system, it cannot be altered. This gives producers some assurance of what they will be earning in the upcoming months. As Yamile explains, “iFinca can help us in the case coffee prices fall again and we have specialty coffee that we want to sell for a good price.”
The spread of COVID-19 is being actively managed by many countries, and as business slowly goes back to normal, parts of the coffee supply chain could also resume operations. Many coffee producers will have weathered this storm thanks to technologies like the iFinca platform.
With its ability to streamline communications, facilitate relationships, and increase transparency throughout the supply chain, producers could find that iFinca helps them long after the pandemic is over – giving them access to new business opportunities, so they can secure a more stable income.