When one thinks of coffee they usually are not thinking about its origins and how it got to their cup. However, if you ask them where they think their cup of coffee came from, you’ll get an overwhelming response, Colombia! A country rich in tradition, a tradition deep in coffee. It has been one of the most known regions for growing great quality coffee with the perfect climate. In recent years though, the effects of climate change, economic crises, political disruption, and other factors have changed the landscape of Colombia.
Tim Hortons Coffee Partnership, implemented by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung and support by one of Canada’s leading coffee companies, Tim Horton’s has been addressing these changes and working with local communities on the ground. One of the areas of focus is stressing the importance of Farmer Organizations. These organizations allow smallholder farmers to join which creates better opportunities for them and their community. One such organization in Colombia is ASOTATAMA in the El Aguila, Valle region.
Yonnier Obando, a 27-year-old man in the region, joined the ASOTATAMA Farmer Organization and speaks about his journey.”My father gave me a plot of land to grow coffee. The lot was very weedy and the brush was very high. I decided it needed to be burned to allow a fresh start. My aunt Alba who had been participating in the Tim Horton’s Coffee Partnership invited me to participate as well. She insisted that they were going to empower me to be able to establish my coffee plot and have good soil management. In one of the workshops, I learned about the importance of soil management and the use of green manures. I then decided to establish my coffee plot with green fertilizer barriers and shade trees, a practice that has been forgotten for years.”
In one of the workshops I learned about the importance of soil management and the use of green manures.
He continues, “In addition to the training, Tim Horton’s Coffee Partnership motivated us to organize as a group, as a way to work more collaboratively and move forward together. We created our internal group regulations and subsequently, a rotating fund regulation to administer an investment resource that the program gave us. My first revolving fund credit was to pay for my new batch of coffee. In order to access this credit, it was necessary to participate actively in the training and also to put into practice on the farm good agricultural practices such as conserving soil and water, making safe handling of agrochemicals, implementing administrative tools, making integrated pest management, and more. To receive the credit on must be very satisfied with the work on the farm, have real needs and be punctual in the repayment.
Yonnier’s story shows us how important it is to not only invest in youth but if you provide the knowledge and tools, you will become self-sufficient and sustainable. This goes into the entire livelihood approach which ensures that every smallholder farmer increases aspects of their lives for a better self, family and in the end a better community.
Eduardo Valencia is another coffee farmer who is a member of ASOTATAMA and project participant. Eduardo says of the project, “With the arrival of the Tim Horton’s Coffee Partnership, I was very encouraged with the coffee we grew. I liked the pieces of training that are very practical and where they also take into account our knowledge. All this has helped me to better organize my farm. Before, I did not appreciate my farm or my work. Now I see my coffee farm as a coffee business and I value my work which allows me to be my own boss.”
“At the time of being organized as a group, we began to see results and advantages. The possibility of having a revolving fund as a group has been a great opportunity for each of us. We have given an excellent use to the fund in the last 7 years and has also grown its capital through its own contributions. When we started with the group we had 13 members, today we are 45 members which include men, women, and youth.”
“We owe what we are to coffee!”
A powerful statement that puts the focus again on how farmer organizations allow smallholder farmers to grow and benefit from each other. With financing options and further opportunities for women and youth in the community. At a recent gathering of other Farmer Organizations in the country, several participants were vocal about what they feel is the lifeline of ensuring coffee can continue in their families, communities, “We owe what we are to coffee!” one participant says.
Another says, “The countryside can live without the city, but the city can not live without the countryside”. A true statement which highlights how consumers no longer know where their goods are coming from or how they got there. In the end, we are all in this together and whether you live in a city and consume coffee or you live the countryside growing coffee, it takes both sides to come together and ensure the future is prosperous for everyone!
The sooner we start treating sustainability not as a buzzword but as a mission and way of life, the sooner everyone benefits and after all, in these unforeseen times, community and togetherness is a great solution!