This post comes from my colleague Griselda Barraza. As part of the work we are doing to include independent smallholder coffee farmers in Fair Trade, Griselda interviewed Fabian to learn more about his participation in the SCAA show back in April.
Fabian Andres is 26 years old and he is already a leader in his community. He inherited his farm from his father. Fabian Andres’ father bought his farm by saving every penny he earned since childhood. Even as a child, Fabian Andres’ father knew he wanted to buy a coffee farm.
Fabian Andres lives in the town of San Pablo, in the Department of Nariño, in Colombia, with his wife and other close relatives. Years of armed conflict in Nariño have affected the livelihoods of many farming communities. He and other farmers in his community are part of our pilot programs to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to millions of independent smallholders in coffee. He was among the group of farmers that were invited by Fair Trade to attend the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) conference in Boston earlier this year.
Many months have gone by since the last time I saw Fabian Andres. As I remember, he was always thinking of ways to help the group of farmers in his community. At the show he met with roasters and importers and built business relationships that could help him support his community. I recently talked with him over the phone and asked him about his experience at the SCAA show – now that he had had more time to reflect on it. The way he answered my questions helped me understand why he is a leader among his peers.
What were some of the most important things you learned during the SCAA show in Boston?
“Well, I have to say that I learned from the stories that the other farmers and workers told. Many of the stories touched my heart in a very deep way. I know there are small farmers and farm workers all over the world; I also know that many of them are struggling to make means happen. The story of my friend Leonardo from Nicaragua was pretty impressive. Leonardo is a coffee farm worker who decided to change his life and worked his way around any difficult situation. He works as a coffee picker all week long in the fields, and head out to the city to learn computers skills and English during the weekends. Leonardo taught me that just because I work in the fields I do not have to be disconnected from development and technology. Learning is available to whoever wants to take advantage of it. I might have to make some sacrifices along the way, but it will be worth it. Leonardo’s audacity has taught me a valuable lesson and it has helped me to re-evaluate my life.”
Has going to the SCAA show helped you in other ways, if so how?
“I can project myself better now. Before this event I didn’t know where I was heading. I knew I had to work and I was doing just that: working. I’m now projecting myself with goals in mind; knowingly that I’m capable of learning new things and I can bring that new knowledge to my community. I realize how many things move around coffee. I can learn all those new things and make my experience of being a coffee farmer more engaging and interesting. This experience has also helped me to get to know myself better; I can now reflect on my life as smallholder farmer, find what I like and dislike and work to improve those things that need to be improved. “
Have your shared your experience with other farmers from your region?
“I’ve shared my experiences with some of my neighbors and with the group of farmers which whom we have our monthly meetings. They were very happy to hear my experience, but they also expressed their desire to experience it on their own. I think that by sharing my experience with this group of farmers they are starting to focus and re-think their future. The coffee world is so big and it has so much to offer; it is not just about planting and harvesting coffee, but it goes beyond that. We can create new relationships that can last forever. Through the supply chain, farmers, importers, exporters and buyers, we can all share our processes and things we like or don’t like and what needs to be improved, such as flavors, quality etc. It’s a universal exchange of knowledge that benefits everyone in the chain. Even those who don’t work directly with coffee, but belong to a coffee community will see the benefits thru social projects. Everyone should be aware that all the benefits and all the knowledge we are acquiring comes from coffee.”
What do you envision for the future?
“I want to have a life project. I want to learn about every process within coffee. I want to learn new concepts. I want to be part of everything that relates to coffee from planting, cupping to distributing the coffee. All of it. I want to be a part of all of it. After I learn all I can learn, I want to bring that knowledge and share it with the farmers in my community. I want to start more community projects.”
What tools do you need to use to start working on this?
“For now I’m in the early stage. I’m learning, reading and informing myself. I’m working with a friend to learn the art of cupping. I need to teach my palate to identify flavors. Once I’m skilled in cupping, I will bring that new knowledge to my community. And once I am able to bring all this new knowledge to my community I know that peace will come to my land. Yes, peace. I believe that if I share my knowledge and make myself available to my community, peace will come. It has to start with me and others will follow. “
“There is this popular phenomenon in Colombia. Many of those who live in the lowest social stratus think that only the Mayor or the President in power would be able to provide them with a house. When I see this situation, I think that as a community we can get together and with the proceeds from our coffee we can generate our own resources. We can create community wealth that would allow us to create developmental programs, helping those in the community with the greatest need.”
“Whenever people hear that you work, they immediately associate that statement with “generating income”, but when you work for the community, you don’t necessarily create money, but you do create solid relationships within your community and that by itself creates peace.”
Do you have any suggestions for us? for future events?
“Yes, let farmers and farm workers exhibit their projects in a deeper way so we can hear what projects they have worked on and learn from that. In Colombia the subsidy for poor families is too small, and people are dying of hunger. I will want to show you that my community will not die, because we’ll all be working hard and set the example that working together can indeed bring peace.”