Fabian, a 25 year-old small-scale farmer from southern Colombia, began a two day journey from his village to Portland, OR in the U.S. to attend the Specialty Coffee Association of America conference this past April. He spent five days in the largest coffee conference in the world meeting with coffee buyers, NGO’s and other farmers. At our Fair Trade producer forum, he spoke to 300 other producer representatives already working in Fair Trade. Fabian told me that he saw “the future” when he talked with Fair Trade cooperatives. He was inspired to see how other small-scale farmers just like him had been able to organize other farmers in their communities and were now implementing projects to improve access to healthcare, education and other community development programs with Fair Trade funds. Correspondingly, more senior Fair Trade cooperative representatives told me that when they talked with Fabian they saw “their past” in him, and it reminded them how they begun working in Fair Trade decades ago.
I met Fabian last year when I visited Nariño, Colombia, a land of volcanoes and mountains. The volcan Galeras (active for over 1 million years) accompanied me for most of my trip. Nariño is the most southern state in Colombia producing coffee. It is known for some of the best coffees in the country. This is small farmer coffee, and there are more than 35,000 small-scale coffee farmers in Nariño. Many of them have between 1-3 acres. I had the opportunity to visit several communities in Nariño and met the hard-working families that grow coffee on the slopes of several mountains.
Fabian and his brother Juan Carlos are two of the leaders in their community. With other
40 50 small-scale farmers, they are creating a farmer organization in their village. Although this organization is the right size for them, it would not be financially feasible to get Fair Trade certified directly since the cost would be too high (at a relatively fixed cost divided by only a small number of farmers). Instead, Fabian and his village are joining with small farmers from other villages in Nariño to work together and join Fair Trade as part of our pilot projects to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to the big majority of farmers not yet included: small-scale farmers who are not yet part of a cooperative.
Fabian told me about the work they are doing, how they are working together to bypass the “coyotes” (intermediaries) and get a higher price for their coffee. The farmers are also strengthening their farmer groups to become more professional and provide a better service to their members and families. Moreover, they are working in improving their sustainable practices to meet Fair Trade standards. Getting Fair Trade premium in the future will allow them to fund all this work.
One of the top points of Fabian’s trip to the U.S. was when he met with Ed, the Fair Trade buyer from Green Mountain, the biggest Fair Trade coffee buyer in the world, and they could talk about the coffee in Nariño, farming communities there and the work they were doing to become Fair Trade certified. At the end of that meeting Ed expressed his interest in two containers of that coffee as soon as the producers get Fair Trade certified.
The next day, when I was walking with Fabian to the train on our way to the airport, Fabian was telling me how much this trip has changed his way of seeing coffee. He was excited about everything that he learned and how he could bring that to his community. Coffee was not the same anymore. He knew now of this new world where producers can meet directly with buyers and where other producers can learn together how to create more sustainable futures for their communities.