Colombia Coffee Safari January 2009

I have just returned from Colombia where I and a group of independent roasters visited a variety of coffee farms from independent farms to co-ops both Fair Trade and Rain Forest Alliance certified. What an amazing country in terms of variety of landscapes, the climate and of course the people.

Like many people I went with a little trepidation as so much has been reported in the world press on the activities of those who grow illegal crops and FARC guerillas. Whilst everything isn't perfect, the country is a far safer and more stable place even than it was just 5 years ago.

This stability has led to a thriving economy based around coal, palm oil, flowers and coffee. Quite a range of diverse products.

Colombia is the third largest coffee growing country in the world after Brazil and Vietnam. This year though the crop has struggled due to unpresidented amounts of rain. Usually there is a dry and wet season, however the dry season has failed to materialise in recent times and as a result the crop will be down around 1 million bags this year. This is putting huge pressure on the price, with the interenal differential currently around 25c per pound ahead of the New York c market.

This is in turn causing issues for certified organic farmers and Fair Trade certified co-ops. The premiums required by these growers is such that it is making them uncompetitive in world markets. As recently as November 2008 one organic farmer has abandoned their organic certification as the costs are proving to be overwhelming in current market conditions.

We also heard from one Fair Trade certified group who are unable to sell all of their coffee as Fair Trade certified as there is insufficient demand. The result is that they are having to sell a significant proportion of their crop on the open market whilst still paying the Fair trade certifiers, but are unable to gain the social premium. Clearly questions need to be asked of the the Fair Trade programme as it is currently structured.

The Colombian coffee federation (FNC) also came in for some stick as despite the fact that they take 6c on ever pound of coffee produced, their distribution of these funds to help all coffee farmers is to say the least uneven. The FNC also appear to be competing against other private organisations when it comes to buying coffee from the farmers which seems quite extrardinary. Another organisation that is in need of major reform.

All in all it was an incredibly enlightening trip. They always say that when you travel you come back a changed person. I certainly feel that to be the case as I reflect on this trip.

As I unpack my pictures and video footage I hope to share more of what I have learned on this trip with you. In the mean time a big thank-you to those who made this such an amazing trip.

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