STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 4, Number 3

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40 STiR tea & coffee industry international / Issue 3, 2015 (June/July) By Dan Bolton Caldas farmers in the Nespresso AAA program get a price premium. Darío Antonio Espinosa Galeano at his farm in Jericó, Antioquia. CALDAS, Colombia Wisps of snow-white mist frame the steep hillsides of lush green coffee below. The plane descends to a high plateau, setting down in Manizales, a city of 350,000 in the north western Andes and the capital of the Department of Caldas. Caldas is the third point of Colombia's "Coffee Cultural Landscape" a Unesco recognized world heritage site and a fertile zone that includes Risaralda and Quindio in Colombia´s central Andes. Caldas is the fourth largest producer of Colombia's fabled Arabica. Its hillsides are home to more than 35,000 farmers who produce coffee. In Caldas yields are rising and value is rising faster still, explains Luis F. Samper, chief communications and marketing officer for the Colombian Coffee Growers Fed- eration (FNC). The annual harvest is worth $250 million. Coffee supports 300,000 Caldas residents, the majority of whom live on peasant farms of less than four acres (1.5 hectares). Only 2.3% of the land is commercial farms of 25 acres (10 ha) or larger. During the next few days as I bounce along in the FNC van, I discover that Caldas celebrates coffee excellence in the most sustainable way possible — by concentrating on incremental long-term improvements at the farm level. Samper said that in Caldas FNC employs 127 agronomists whose primary task is to educate and advise "and improve the competitiveness of their coffee." The entire region is organized into 500 groups of 15 to 35 growers who individually strive for excellence. The region is relatively isolated so agents become involved in the life of the grower, said Samper. Agronomists serve several municipalities, linking hundreds of farms in a network where good communication is a priority. A culture of friendly competition has emerged in which local growers compare yield, share insights on combatting pests and encour- age innovation in farm management. When confronted with the devastation of La Roya, Colombia's agronomists rallied the nation's small growers and together renovated 3.25 billion coffee trees, reducing the average age of plant stock from 12 to seven years. Productivity increased 50%, Securing the Future Nespresso finances a retirement program to support Colombian coffee growers in their old age

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