How Supracafe is supporting sustainable coffee farming in Colombia by partnering with grower associations
In 1990, when we founded SUPRACAFE as a company specializing in the production, processing and marketing of high-quality coffees, it was clear to me that our value generation model should be based mainly on direct work with producers to build quality. That is why we established a strategic alliance with the coffee growers’ cooperatives of Colombia, through its exporting company EXPOCAFE.
It was within this framework that our collaboration with a group of women belonging to the Cauca Coffee Growers Cooperative (Cooperativa de Caficultores del Cauca) emerged 20 years ago. Cauca is a region of Colombia with extraordinary natural wealth and ideal conditions for the production of high-quality coffees because of its latitude, volcanic soils and climate. The region is made up of than 90,000 small producers, many of them women, who each farm less than one hectare on average. Despite its geographical richness, Cauca is an area plagued by armed conflict and poverty.
The process of setting up the programme was not easy. In one of my visits to the coffee growers’ cooperative the manager introduced me to a small group of women. Their message to me was: “We need help to provide for our families; our husbands have died or been displaced by war and we, who are now the household heads, want to grow coffee to earn the necessary income to support our families”.
From this moment, what I call our ‘partnership’ grew. I use the term partner because for SUPRACAFE, the work that we have been doing from this point forwards with members of the Association of Coffee Growing Women of Cauca (AMUCC) is a partnership; a society that seeks the generation of shared value. By helping them to produce their coffee, we have been able to strengthen our supply chain with a high quality supplier. Women are very careful and compliant with at every step of the coffee production process. Through our support, together with that of other institutions, such as the CAFEMUNDI Foundation, the Cauca Coffee Growers Cooperative, EXPOCAFE, AECID, USAID and others, women have been consolidating their crops, acquiring technical knowledge and making the necessary investments to adapt their small farms to sustainably grow coffee. They are a reliable supplier partner for SUPRACAFE, and in the current market where high quality coffee is increasingly valued, it allows us to grow sales in premium market segments.
During all these years we have being analysing and working on the immense challenges faced by small coffee growers, especially women. They tell us that some of the most pressing challenges are adequate funding, technical assistance, psycho-social assistance and technological improvements.
Through our alliance we have built, first, a differentiated offer of coffee, where the high quality of the coffee is assured through the rigorous farming and processing methods required for specialty coffee and also to meet the Fairtrade and Ecologic certification. Following this, we established certifications of Fair Trade and Organic. Later on, we created TECNICAFE, the first open technological park with an objective to generate more value in coffee ecosystems through innovation, entrepreneurship and training in an open and collaborative model. We did this because we believe that without innovation there is no progress.
And we’re still working. We are now encouraging the increase in the production of specialty coffees, organic coffees, with greater added value. We are working on the enlargement of the group with the help of AECID and with the support of the United Nations Multi-Partner trust fund for sustaining peace in Colombia we have proposed a project to improve the systems of pre-financing of the harvest and improvement of logistics services for the producers more distant form the collection centers.
Even though we always talk about this programme and its impact in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality, the work we have been developing is much more holistic and ambitious and related to most of the SDGs: Poverty, Innovation, Climate and Decent Work. In addition, our approach takes into account SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals, working through alliances, public-private partnerships and in alliance with different actors.
I would like to take the opportunity to invite all those people, companies or institutions that can contribute and want to collaborate to join our effort to generate value in order to build an increasingly fair and inclusive world, in short, a better world.
By Ricardo Oteros, Supracafe Director General