A few days ago, I spoke to a group of rural entrepreneurs in Huila, Colombia, many of whom were smallholder coffee producers. As I stood at the front of the room, presenting on agribusiness, I looked around at my audience, all of them determined to learn as much as possible. There was a hunger in the room, a hunger to improve and grasp new opportunities.
My audience was made of up of many of the entrepreneurs pushing Colombia’s coffee industry forward – but they don’t just exist in Huila. You’ll find them all over the country. They want to adopt best practices, collaborate, share knowledge, experiment with techniques and, perhaps most importantly, improve their businesses. And to do so, they’re often looking outside of the traditional models of coffee production and trading.
So why is entrepreneurialism thriving in Colombia? And who are the producers leading the way? Keep reading to find out.
Young Colombia seedlings grow. Credit: Floval Group Inv.
The Tools for Increased Entrepreneurialism
Small producers have increasingly been taking on the challenges of modernization, implementing new practices that will improve quality or yield. Yet this can only be possible with cash flow, resources, and the right know-how.
Access to credit allows producers to invest in their farm, purchasing new machinery, building infrastructure, and implementing new technology. This can increase their efficiency or quality and, in turn, their profits – allowing them to provide a better education for their children, improve their quality of life, and reinvest in their farm. It enables producers to act as entrepreneurs – as business people.
And here in Colombia, a mixture of national and local government bodies, banks, and non-government organizations (such as Fairtrade) work to make it easier for coffee producers to take out microloans. As part of its Colombia Siembra scheme, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development works with banks to ensure US $15,000 million is made available in loans for coffee farm renovations.
While these loans can sometimes come with conditions (such as planting the rust-resistant but controversial Castillo), they sow the ground for entrepreneurialism and business growth.
Edwin Valencia Rodriguez of Floval Group Inv. inspects Colombia seedlings growing in greenhouses in the Huila region. Credit: Floval Group Inv.
Modern Business Tools
Equipping producers to act as entrepreneurs, able to refine processes and innovate, means making sure they can access good business tools. The right tools make data processing, inventory control, and implementation of new practices easier. From Excel spreadsheets to apps such as Amazon and Nespresso, producers can use these to better manage their farm and make informed business decisions.
Colombia seedlings grow under shade. Credit: Floval Group Inv.
Training & Know-How
Formal or informal, theoretical or practical, the sharing of information is key to improving farming – and business – practices.
The National Vocational Training Agency (SENA) provides free-of-charge training in association with the government, NGOs, companies, and unions. Similarly, the internet makes accessing information about production, processing, and farm management much easier – whether it’s via the SCA, FAO, or even publications such as this one!
This isn’t to say that the information gap is solved: more training and knowledge-sharing will continue to benefit Colombian producers. But for those talented individuals able to study through SENA, the information they learn is a competitive advantage. They return to the farm to adopt best practices, experiment with new techniques, and respond to market demands. They can revolutionize the local coffee industry.
Edwin Valencia Rodriguez of Floval Group Inv. checks beans for defects. Credit: Floval Group Inv.
Colombia’s Entrepreneurs Choose to Collaborate
So who are these entrepreneurs cultivating a stronger coffee industry? Well, let me tell you about German Bahamon from Neiva, Huila.
German and his younger brother, Mateo, work together to turn their dream into reality. They’ve united several small producers in Zuluaga, Gigante, Huila under the umbrella of Zuluaga Coffee (although German and Mateo use the brand Agro Principado).
As an industrial engineer and public servant in Bogotá, German’s expertise spans many disciplines. In the city, he works to create better housing conditions. But when in the countryside, he works to improve coffee producers’ incomes through quality, collaboration, and community.
“The project started in 2016 as a family project,” he explains. “Today, we work with eight producing families. We select the best coffee beans, giving origin to our product. This is a project with a vision to the future. This entrepreneurial project does not only seek to be lucrative for producers but also carries a social-environmental contribution.”
Colombian coffee beans, roasted in Colombia. Credit: Floval Group Inv.
Entrepreneurs Exploring Revenue Streams
123 kilometres away from Neiva, you’ll find Mr. Juan Manuel Garzón. He’s from the city of La Plata, where he owns a hotel. Balcones de la Pradera, as it is called, lies in the suburbs and Juan Manuel manages it with the help of his wife and children.
But he’s not just a hotel-owner: he’s also a coffee farmer. The two business don’t compete for his time and attention. In fact, they complement each other, as he links tourism and coffee production.
“The process was not easy,” he tells me. But he took advantage of opportunities to expand and develop his business – and today, he sees success.
Juan Manuel’s family stand ready to welcome guests. Credit: Juan Manuel Garzón.
Colombia is one of the world’s most famous coffee origins. It has the right climate, soil, coffee varieties, and expertise to produce incredible coffee. And now a new class of leaders are emerging, ones that picture an even better future for our country. They understand the coffee process from the beginning and are finding innovative ways to add value. They are collaborating. They are experimenting. They are exploring revenue streams.
They are cultivating an even stronger Colombian coffee industry.
Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the individuals or bodies mentioned in this article and cannot directly endorse them.
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