Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

Under the Microscope: How Do Exporters Work With Coffee Farmers?

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In 2015, the historically violence-ridden Tolima, Colombia held a specialty coffee auction. For producers, it was a wonderful opportunity: one to raise the profiles of their coffees, to receive better prices, and to help their region become known not for political violence by FARC rebels but for high-quality coffee.

This year, the event happened again – but in Nariño, not Tolima. On both occasions, it could not have happened without the support of Inconexus, a direct trade exporter focused on Colombian coffees, and Royal Coffee, an education-orientated importer. For them, supporting and promoting Colombian specialty coffee benefits everyone in the supply chain.

Pedro Léon, the Technical Assistance Director of Inconexus, agreed to speak to us about how they select their farms and the programmes they run to enable high-quality coffee production.

SEE ALSO: Mejor de Nariño: A Specialty Coffee Auction Comes to Nariño, Colombia

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Pedro Léon (centre) and Inconexus trainees with their certificates of completion. Credit: Inconexus

Thanks for chatting, Pedro. So what do you look for in the farms you work with?

We look for farms that can achieve the strict cup profiles and quality standards established by our Quality Control Area for each region in Colombia. For us, quality is the producer’s alpha and omega. We try to find groups of farms that share the same agro climatic conditions – ones which will guarantee volume, traceability, and consistently good-quality beans.

We also try to always improve the living conditions of producers and their families. And we want to improve aspects like their economy, agronomy, environment, and social situation. These guarantee sustainability in the coffee industry, as well as delivering a product that positions Inconexus as the best source of Colombian fine coffee.

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In Tolima, Quality Analyst Daniel Lizcano (left) and trainee Aurelio Gomez cup coffees. Credit: Inconexus

How do you choose which farmers you work with?

We have a number of requirements. They must have the agro climatic conditions which lead to outstanding cup profiles. Producers must be protectors of that environment.

The associations must be both well-organised and transparent, and their work should benefit the producers as well as the high-ranking members. There should be potential for the next generation to continue working on those plots. We look for female leaders so as to encourage gender equality.

The farms and/or associations must be willing to promote establishing, renewing, or maintaining varietals known for their distinctive cup profiles. They must have efficient logistics. Resilience should be present throughout the whole process.

We also look for indigenous communities whose autonomy, self-financing, and development can be improved through working with us.

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Pedro Léon teaches local youths in the department of Cauca. Credit: Inconexus

How do you offer additional value to producers, beyond price premiums?

We connect international customers who want to purchase single origins with farming communities with sustainable practices, good social conditions, and the right environmental properties to produce coffees with great profiles.

We work in an alliance with associations of producers in order to add value to their single origin coffees. We want to increase the prices of exported coffees, giving farmers above market incomes. The price purchasers pay for superior quality goes to the producer. And we provide economic support to associations, in terms of their coffee deliveries and production costs.

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Ramón Hoyos (right), a Quality Analyst for Inconexus, with producers from the UMUK Indigenous Association in Tolima. Credit: Inconexus

Do you provide training?

Our work hinges on the constant improvement of quality, which is why we provide analyses and training. We provide technical assistance, including meetings, training, Farmers Field Schools, and assistance in improving post-harvest processing and milling. We also provide management support. We cup coffees and provide feedback to producers so as to implement improvements at the farm level.

We visit the farms so we can get a quick understanding of the situation. We want to know what the needs, limitations, and opportunities of the producer’s family and farm are.

We believe we need to treat each producer differently, based on their exact conditions, and listen to their requests. We also focus on providing assistance so that the producers can learn the new concepts and practices themselves.

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Coffee producer Emir Dagua receives training on equipment maintenance from Inconexus. Credit: Inconexus

Could you tell us about the contracts you create with producers?

Producers are contracted to provide parchment coffee, while we provide technical assistance, support with the certification processes, and training on physical and sensory analysis (according to SCAA norms.) We want to establish long-lasting relationships.

We’re targeting the single origin niche of the market. We ensure better prices than the ones offered in the global market, as well as price premiums based on the coffee quality.

Our contracts are based on the harvest forecast of FNC, growth, average age of crops, and volumes in previous harvests. This provides valuable data for contracts for future harvests and helps us to establish logistics for international markets. We have to consider the quantity, type of coffee, date of delivery, price, and premiums for quality and certifications.

We take care of logistics, so that any risks involved affect us, not the farmers. Contracts are paid on delivery. However, we also provide financing for farmers so that they can receive advance payments.

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Ramón Hoyos, a Quality Analyst for Inconexus, receives coffee in Planadas, Tolima. Credit: Inconexus

Can you tell us more about those logistics?

We have implemented a programme to strengthen logistics and administration for coffee purchasing, including storage centre management, cupping, and lot segmentation for exporting.

We also operate intermediate storage centres and labs in convenient places for producers. This means producers can deliver their coffee and get immediate information on the yield factor. In between just two and four hours, they can know the cup profile. In some associations, the cup profile and yield factor are known by the producer just after they bring the coffee to the dry mill. We also hold events for international buyers and follow processes for transparency.

It also means that the risks associated with storing the coffee are incurred by Inconexus, not the association. The storage processes follow the best practices for preserving the quality of the beans. The staff are well-trained. They work efficiently and transparently to ensure the quality of the beans, working to the yield factor methodology (FNC norm) and the cupping methodology of SCAA.

The cost of operating these centres and labs is shared equally between Inconexus and the associations, with the operating administered by members of the association.

Thanks for talking, Pedro! 

Interview conducted by J. Guevara and translated by A. K. Molina Ospina.

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