Farming coffee continues to grow hope in Caquetá, Colombia

Reviving a high-quality coffee culture is empowering Colombian farmers to build a brighter future.

By Jack Neighbour
Published 6 May 2020, 17:58 BST
Continuing Caquetá’s coffee revival

Fernando Pedreros Muños’s ancestral roots run deep in the remote highlands of Colombia. Farming coffee here isn’t an easy endeavour, as taming the wild, native plant and navigating the complex bean-to-cup process require tremendous hard work and resilience. But the effort’s worth it, as the region’s unique terroir—high humidity, medium altitude, and lower temperatures—creates the perfect conditions for nurturing Arabica, one of the world’s highest-quality coffee species. But for Don Fernando, cultivating coffee on the Caquetá farm where he was raised has been much more difficult than usual.

For five decades the heavily forested region in southern Colombia was destabilized by internal conflict. The fighting almost cut Caquetá coffee farmers off from the world, with trade restrictions and safety concerns causing many coffee farmers to either switch to different crops or abandon their farms altogether. Don Fernando was one of few who persevered, until the signing of a landmark peace accord in 2016 allowed coffee farming to slowly begin its regeneration.

Caquetá farmer Don Fernando continued to grow coffee despite living in a region ravaged by conflict. ...

Caquetá farmer Don Fernando continued to grow coffee despite living in a region ravaged by conflict. Since peace has been restored, he’s been working with Nespresso to rebuild the rich coffee culture in the area.

Photograph by Rena Effendi

To help Caquetá’s coffee growers revive their coffee culture in a sustainable way, the Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation (known in Spanish as FNC) is partnered with Nespresso and its AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme, in order to help farmers develop the quality of their coffee, strengthen production, and gain broader access to the global marketplace.

Around a thousand farmers in Caquetá now participate in the programme, which provides technical assistance, additional premiums for high-quality coffee, and ongoing support from agronomists—one of whom is Julian Andres Velásquez, who’s been helping farmers in the area. Since he arrived from the city Julian has seen positive shifts in quality of life and coffee. This success, he feels, is owed to building close relationships with the community he has operated in. “I stay overnight in [the farmers’] houses, I meet all of their kids, sometimes their parents…we create this connection and I feel like people really consider me as a friend,” Julian says. “These relationships, it’s like, more than a business, [it’s] like a partnership to keep working together…to make a better future for all of us.” This better future appears to be materializing, as Julian has noticed people in the community becoming more confident in investing in coffee as a means of supporting themselves.

The Caquetá region in Colombia is considered to be a gateway to the Amazon. Its climatic ...

The Caquetá region in Colombia is considered to be a gateway to the Amazon. Its climatic conditions, altitude, and soil all contribute to a distinctive Arabica coffee that tastes like nothing else in the world.

Photograph by Rena Effendi

In the last year alone, Don Fernando has seen huge improvements in his production. Working with Julian and Nespresso has given Don Fernando access to infrastructure such as machinery for de-pulping and fermenting coffee, as well as the training in how to use it effectively. Beyond this, for the first time he’s really able to think about the future, purchasing a second coffee plantation that Julian is helping him prepare to produce high-quality coffee two or three years in the future. The incremental success Don Fernando has achieved has made him somewhat of a conduit for persuading others to adopt new practices. Now known in his community as a symbol of success, he encourages other farmers to join the programme. “People are aware of what Don Fernando [has] made. And they consider [him to be] an important part of the Nespresso programme. People have got in touch with him to ask for advice,” Julian says.

It certainly appears that, having endured through turbulent times in their devotion to coffee culture, farmers in Caquetá now have the means and the support to expand, improve, and plan for their future. They can be confident in the knowledge that coffee, in this area at least, is coming back.

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