With all of the conversation about the coffee-price crisis recently, there are naturally roasters from all over the world wondering what they can actually do to help producers earn more money and make a better, more sustainable life out of coffee farming. Frankly, we believe there isn’t one answer or one way to combat the crisis, but many—and it’s our job to collaborate in order to identify and act on those various solutions.
Thankfully, we have partners—producers, exporters, and roasters—who are committed to finding practical ways to address the crisis as well, which allows us to develop sourcing relationships and programs that offer tangible ways to make positive changes. The best of these have real and lasting impact on the lives of everyone along the supply stream, and that’s why we’re especially excited for the launch of our Colombian export partner Banexport’s Farm Select program.
Farm Select is a project initiated by Banexport commercial manager Jairo Ruiz and his team on the ground in Colombia, where they work with smallholder producers not only as exporters but also true developers of quality: A significant part of Banexport’s mission is to offer support and technical assistance to farmers on a voluntary basis, in an effort to help them improve quality and yields in order to earn higher prices for their crop.
This particular Farm Select initiative is an accumulation of the existing work Banexport has done for the past nearly 15 years, in that it focuses not only on quality improvements but also on making long-lasting connections between roasters and farmers who are able to invest in and grow with one another. The idea is that an eligible producer signs on to the program and receives both specific technical support (Brix and pH meters, gravimeter, fermentation advice, other processing improvement suggestions, cupping training, and GrainPro bags) and a fixed price for their entire yield, provided it has an average score above 84 points.
The Importance of a Fixed Price
By offering a fixed price at a premium above market—and, for Cafe Imports, above our usual differential for Regional Select coffees, which are already priced at a quality premium—a producer is able to make plans and investment decisions for the future: One of the biggest obstacles for coffee farmers is unpredictable income and unreliable payment. By closing this gap, Farm Select producers can more efficiently, effectively, and sustainably grow their businesses. (Producers who participate are still eligible for microlot pricing on their exceptional coffees, as every bag will be sampled and cupped for quality control, as usual.)
Additionally, Banexport is also paying close attention to the payment Farm Select producers offer to their picking staff: Pickers are among the most disenfranchised members of the coffee supply stream, even though they literally hold the quality of the end product in the palms of their hands. Banexport is committed to creating more equity for pickers by requiring Farm Select–participating producers to compensate pickers accordingly—double the current going rate for picking, from $300 pesos per kilo to $600 pesos. A good picker can gather up to 80 kilos per day, according to Banexport agronomists: That means traditionally they would earn roughly $24,000 pesos for a day’s work, the equivalent of $7–8 USD. While even the doubled figure of $14–16 per day seems outrageously low to us, it is more comparable to wages in regions where pickers generally earn more money, such as Guatemala.
Pickers also have access to health care through this program, and the long-term goal for Banexport is to establish a farm structure that encourages full-time positions for pickers throughout the year: fertilizing and pruning in the off-season, supporting a more sustainable system for everyone involved.
The goal for Farm Select, as with all of Cafe Imports’ coffees, is to match-make roasters with producers whose coffee fits their needs: The ultimate goal, the pipe dream of all our work in specialty coffee, is to watch roasters and producers grow with one another so that a roaster can buy more of a producer’s total yield over time and through repeated collaboration. Not only does that offer security to both parties, but also creates a connection that is scalable, meaningful, and sustainable.
So far, Banexport has identified a passel of producers in Cauca, Hula, and Nariño to participate in Farm Select. Like Alvaro Andres Roldan, whose 12 hectare in Cajibio, Huila, grow Castillo, Typica, Pink Bourbon, and Caturra varieties. Alvaro says he has worked hard to innovate and improve the processes on his farm, and that he hopes that participating in Farm Select will help him become one of the best producers in Cauca.
And Blanca Olivia Cañar Escobar, who owns a 4-hectare farm in La Florida, Nariño, and says through translation, “I was chosen because of the quality of my coffee. I am a dedicated producer…. I strive to process coffee properly, from picking only ripe beans to applying eco-friendly practices.”
Blanca specifically says she hopes to find long-term collaborative partners through this project, which is where you come in: Get in touch with your sales representative today to find the best Banexport Farm Select offering for you, learn about how you can invest in the participating producers, and push this program forward as a tangible response to the coffee-price crisis—and stay tuned for more in-depth explorations of how Farm Select impacts the lives of the producers involved, coming soon.