the changing line between small farmers and farm workers

“This is a tough job.  You move around all year long and work in different farms.  Some farms treat you ok but others don’t.  The good part is that you see many places and meet a lot of people.  But it is hard work and sometimes you barely make enough for your food” – Luis, an andariego from Colombia.

Andariegos” are migrant farm workers in Colombia who go from town to town, region to region, working the coffee harvest.  Colombia is different from most coffee countries as coffee is harvested all year round.  Different regions harvest at different times and, in some regions, there are trees ready to be harvested all year round.  This affects labor relations in the country as small farmers, migrant farm workers, and other farm workers are all impacted by this.  During different times of the year and at different moments in their lives, small farmers are migrant farm workers and migrant farm workers may become small farmers in the future

Coffee pickers in Manizales, Colombia. Luis, on the left, described himself as an “andariego”. Nebardo, in the middle, works in coffee since he was 9 years old. Rigoberto, on the right, is a small-scale coffee farmer who is picking coffee in this farm since his farm is not in harvest period right now

Many of these workers have been in the coffee industry since they were children.  Some began working alongside their parents when they were 8-years old while others have been in coffee for their whole lives as their parents are small farmers in other regions.

I was in Manizales, Colombia last week visiting a farm interested in being part of our Fair Trade for All pilots.  The idea is to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to farm workers.  The only thing bigger than the challenge ahead is the opportunity to create impact for the migrant farm workers on this farm.  At present, there are 50 permanent workers and 40 temporary workers on the farm.  During the peak of the harvest, 450 temporary workers (many of them migrant workers) will be picking coffee.  Workers will live on the farm and will be paid by the quantity of coffee they pick.  At peak harvest, they will likely make far more than the minimum wage, but it all depends on how much coffee they pick.

While talking with the migrant workers, I tried to learn how Fair Trade could help them.  Better wages was their first idea.  Better housing conditions too.  They liked the place where they lived in this farm because the family that cooked treated them well but they mentioned that it is not like this in every farm in the community. I asked them, how could the Fair Trade premium help those who only stay on the farm for 3 months? One of their ideas was to ask the buyers to send the premium in advance so they could implement initiatives at the same time they are picking coffee.

Later that week I visited another region in Colombia, Nariño, and met several small farmers who had been “andariegos” in the past.  These farmers either inherited a small portion of land from their parents or eventually saved enough to buy their own land.  Several of them were still working as coffee pickers on other farms when their farms were not in harvest.  This reinforced in my mind that all of these coffee communities need Fair Trade and that this is not about small farmers versus farm workers but about how Fair Trade could benefit all farming communities.  How can we help migrant farm workers to have better working conditions, and, hopefully in the future, to perhaps become small farmers in a producer organization or a cooperative?  The challenge is great but the opportunity even greater.

For a “rocky” reflection on this issue, click on the video below of my conversation with a farm technician in Manizales, Colombia:

Video: motorcycle reflections – small farmers versus farm workers

2 thoughts

  1. Pingback: Top 5 experiences of 2012 | coffee gente – the people in coffee

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