Top 5 experiences of 2012

We are approaching the end of the year and this has been a challenging but very rewarding year professionally.   I have been working to find alternatives to improve the situation of farm workers and independent smallholder farmers in coffee.  That means that I have had to travel to many places to build partnerships and work with different groups (farmers, workers, NGO’s, unions, exporters, roasters, etc).  I wanted to reflect on the most meaningful moments in my work this year.   I chose 5, but actually I am very fortunate to have had several moments that inspired me and have helped me to overcome the internal and external challenges I face in my work.  So here are three of my top five.  Tomorrow I will post the other two.

5. Meeting hard-working coffee women in Indonesia

I traveled extensively every year, mostly in Latin America.  In early December, I visited Indonesia for the first time.  During most of my travels, I speak with farmers directly; however, because I did not understand their local language, my hosts were instrumental in showing me around and helping me learn about the farming communities and their desire to improve their livelihoods.

One of the most significant parts of my trip was learning about the hard working Batak women who do the majority of the work in the coffee fields but who are often not proportionately represented in the decisions of the farming communities.  We identified opportunities for improving this with the support of the men in the community. This trip was a humbling (and exciting) reminder of how much I still have to learn about the people in the coffee lands.

Women coffee farmers in Lake Toba, Sumatra

4. Kicking back with the migrant workers in Colombia

Migrant workers are one of the least understood and most vulnerable groups in coffee production.  They represent the biggest challenge and potentially the most rewarding opportunity for the coffee industry.  How the coffee industry can create a more sustainable reality for these workers is a question that I will further explore in 2013.  Back in August, I had the immense pleasure of meeting a group of 20 migrant workers in Manizales, Colombia.  I spent time in the coffee fields with them, and I also spent time in the evening trying to learn more about their situation as migrant workers.   After their long, hard work day, they were generous enough to spend time with me in their dormitories at the farm.  We sat outside their dorms on the floor, laughing and talking.  They told me story after story of their lives as migrant workers, their good and bad experiences on different coffee farms, the friendships they create, and the challenges they face.  Looking back over the year, the evening I spent with them was a very special moment that I feel very fortunate to have shared with them.

the workers during their breakfast break

the workers during their breakfast break

One of the workers shows his 'Van Damme' pose for this pic

One of the workers shows his ‘Van Damme’ pose for this pic

3. Working with Fabian, Mario and the smallholder farmers from Nariño, Colombia

Fabian Mutis is a young smallholder coffee farmer from Nariño, Colombia.  He is part of a new generation of coffee farmers. He traveled several days to come to the U.S. for the first time to attend the Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Portland in April.  For Fabian, attending this show where thousands of coffee professionals (baristas, roasters, importers, farmers, etc) meet to discuss and learn about coffee was once in a lifetime experience.  It was like going to Disneyland, but for coffee people.  I attend this show every year, and it is one of the busiest weeks of the year.  This time, I was fortunate to support Fabian and Mario on their trip and to see the experience through their eyes.   Fabian imagined the future for his community: farmers working together to create stronger, closer commercial relationships and telling their stories directly to industry and consumers.  He returned to Nariño, and now he is a passionate leader in his community trying to help farmers organize so they can achieve better prices and improve their livelihoods together. I feel very fortunate to have been part of Fabian’s experience coming to the U.S.

Working with Fabian, Mario, and the smallholder farmers from Nariño has been an incredible, yet challenging experience.  I hope that 2013 will be the year we find solutions to the challenges we face there, and we take advantage of the opportunities ahead of us to benefit these farmers.

Fabian and members of his families in Narino, Colombia

Fabian and members of his families in Narino, Colombia

Mario and Fabian at the airport, on their way back home from the SCAA conference in Portland

Mario and Fabian at the airport, on their way back home from the SCAA conference in Portland

Tomorrow I will post my other top two moments of the year.  I like the idea of highlighting some of those moments that have inspired me and taught me throughout this year.  What about you?  What are your top moments of the year?

and here are my final TWO:

2 thoughts

  1. Great stuff, Miguel, I am hoping to do bring similar similar things to light for Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (all of them are increasing coffee production) in 2013. Thank you for sharing (and thanks for sharing the Chiva too…I love those things!)

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