Colombia is widely regarded as the world’s finest producer of soft coffee. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), since 2000, Colombia has been the third largest exporter of coffee, with 9.59 million bags, after Brazil’s 27.81 million bags and Vietnam’s 15.63 million bags. The main buyers of the coffee are the US, Japan, and Belgium, accounting for 41.3%, 9.3%, and 8.2%, respectively.
Café Devoción was chosen as one of the best coffees in the US in a contest in New York. Juan Pablo Isaza, General Manager of the company, told TBY one of the main differences between the company and its competitors is that it exports the finest and freshest green coffee to the US within 10 days, going “from green to the cup” as fast as possible.
Coffee producers are distributed throughout the whole county. Its geography and weather conditions give coffee growers not only the right irrigation, temperature, and sunlight levels, but also warm wind streams. The main coffee-producing areas are Boyacá, Caldas, Guajira, Magdalena, Quindío, Santander, or Cauca, where the Arabica variety, which is the unique crop that Colombians use, is cultivated.
A recent study by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC) noted that coffee producers are going through a golden period with yields reaching a record level of 14.2 million 60kg bags in 2015.
The last decade was a poor period for coffee production. A combination of tired soil and the La Niña meteorological phenomenon, which flooded farmland, meant yields were low. This has a dramatic impact on livelihoods, because although the coffee sector only contributes 0.8% to the Colombian GDP, according to the National Planning Department (DNP), the sector employs more than 500,000 families, generating around 2.3 million direct and indirect jobs.
To compare the current situation to 20 years ago, 80% of Colombian exports were directly related to this crop. Today, it represents just 6% of the country’s total exports. This reduction in export share is largely due to the growth and development of other export products. FNC General Manager Roberto Vallez Vallejo assured the 82nd National Congress of Coffee Growers that coffee is not an essential component of the export basket and neither is it important to the country’s GDP. However, it is still vitally important “to restore the profitability of the coffee industry.”
One factor that has removed a cloud of worry from the coffee growers’ shoulders is the peace agreement. An end to the conflict is particularly welcomed in the rural areas. The association Reconciliación Colombia sees the coffee industry as a fundamental player in the transition towards peace. In the late 1990s, thousands of families in coffee areas such as Caldas and Risaralda had to abandon their fields due to the violence. It is estimated that 7% of farmers left the industry during this period.
The National Congress of Coffee Growers has offered to help Juan Manuel Santos’ government by analyzing the coffee belt in terms of offering a reintegration opportunity for “guerrilleros.” It is thought that the former guerrilleros will work with coffee families and develop coffee plantations in new regions to generate sustainable economies and employment.
The outlook for coffee growers is promising. In January 2016, Colombia exported 1.13 million 60kg-sacks of coffee, a 4% increase on the same month in 2015. The possibility of peace will also bring new opportunists to cultivate former untouchable land. From here, the future looks bright.