Colombia- Day 1
Hello from Colombia! I am here with our VP of Marketing, Gerardo Bastiaanse, and our Director of R&D, David Pohl, to give them an introduction to our Direct Trade Verified Sustainable Program. What is DTVS, you might be asking yourself? Is this not just the same thing as Direct Trade that Molly always writes about? Great questions! DTVS is modeled on the same core principles of our Direct Trade Classic program (coffee quality, tiered pricing, transparency to the grower, community engagement, sustainable practices, and consumer engagement) with the added overlay of verification to back up these claims. DTVS programs have conducted a baseline survey of all farmers involved, developed interventions to make progress against this baseline, and then each year is monitored to assess progress. Every three years we will conduct baseline surveys to measure impact in the regions that we are purchasing DTVS coffees from. This overlay of verification and the integration of technical assistance into the price of the coffee are two of the big things that make DTVS different from classic Direct Trade. It also allows us to work with much larger volumes of coffee—Molly does not need to individually visit each of the thousands of farmers that participate…there is a team of agronomists who do that and their interventions and results are consequently measured! Still a little confused? It’s ok, I promise it will start to come together!
This morning David, Gerard and I set off with Ana Maria from Expocafe to visit our farmer partners in Antioquia, Colombia. These farmers are attended by 3 full time agronomists, who deliver individualized advice to each farmer to improve his farming practices. Aditionally, we are heading up a food security pilot, one of the key focus points that came out of our baseline survey. Since this is Gerard’s very first time to a coffee origin, we spent the morning at the farm of Carlos, who took us through all of the steps of coffee production. We started by planting coffee trees in a nursery, then moved on to planting 3 month old trees on the farm, picking coffee cherries, and pulping what we had picked. After pulping we washed the coffee Carlos had pulped yesterday, and laid coffee out to dry. This experience was all encompassing, and it was great to get to participate in each of the steps! It was also a great moment for Carlos to show what he had learned from his agronomist, Eidis, throughout the year that she has been working with him. Carlos was a little skeptical of the program at first. Obviously, he had never heard of Farmer Brothers, and didn’t quite know what to expect. Over the past year, however, he has proven himself to be one of the leaders of the program and is very active in trainings and meetings. We spent a sweaty couple of hours working on Carlos’ farm, and he very graciously provided us with a tasty lunch.
Obviously, because this is Colombia time, we were running a little late, so we rushed to our afternoon activity—a group training on quality and cost savings with farmers and the three agronomists. Solidaridad has created this great game, it is called Gana mas o pieda menos and is styled after a giant monopoly board. Farmers roll a dice and land on different squares…some are good agricultural practices that allow the farmer either to earn more (gana mas) or lose less (pierda menos), and others are bad practices, which cost the farmer money. Some of the good squares were receiving a quality premium from the Farmer Brothers program (get 200,000 pesos) or picking good coffee (win cup of excellence, earn 400,000 pesos). The bad practices squares were learning opportunities for farmers. A lot of farmers know what they should be doing better, but either don’t have the time, will, or desire to make these changes on their farms. The bad practices squares monetized these bad practices for farmers. For example, you left 15 cherries on the ground on each tree after the picking season. From there we calculated the weight of total cherries not picked and sold, multiplies by the weight of a cherry (2 grams) and then by the number of trees per hectare (5,500). Based on today’s internal price, each farmer was losing more than 200 dollars per hectare per year just by not picking cherries up off the ground. Putting bad practices into monetary terms like this really resonated with the farmers, and after we made all of the calculations as a group (and the offending team had to give physical paper money back to the “bank”) you could see the message really sink in with the farmers. These are not things that we are asking them to do for us, which seem like a nuisance, but actually physical money that they are losing by not running their farms as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.
The game was a hoot for everyone, and we enjoyed a nice afternoon snack before setting off back to town for the night. Gerard was a trooper for slogging through so much Spanish, and didn’t even pester me when I forgot to translate for him! I am also excited to have David here, who recently joined me on a Direct Trade Classic trip to Peru, to see the difference between these small-scale and large-scale approaches to direct trade. We capped off our night with a quick meeting with the co-op manager, Hernando Restrepo, who told us all about the history of cooperatives and the FNC in Colombia. Gerard, having taken in too much Spanish for the day, did a fantastic job of dozing off while sitting up. Very impressive skill, I must say. Everyone decided it was time for some cervezas in the plaza mayor before hitting the laptops for some work.
Tomorrow we will be at the purchase point for the cooperative, observing the agronomists interact with farmers when they come to sell their coffee. This is an important time for the agronomists; they can evaluate the quality of coffee that the producer is delivering to the cooperative and give instant advice directly to the farmer. Until then, hasta manana!