A program in Antioquia department fights violence, raises the value of coffee grown in the region and transforms the lives of small coffee growers.
COLOMBIA JOURNAL – MEDELLÍN, Colombia – The government of Antioquia department is investing in training new generations of coffee growers to increase regional productivity in their sector as well as entice youths away from violence.
In 2013, Colombia ranked fourth in the world in coffee exports – behind Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia – according to the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers. Next to Huila department, Antioquia is Colombia’s second-largest producer.
Among Antioquia’s 94 coffee-growing municipalities, armed conflict affects mainly Ituango, Anorí, and Briceño. Young people in the department are at risk of being forcibly recruited by illegal armed groups, according to the Office of the Ombudsman.
The goal of the “Antioquia: Origins of Specialty Coffees” program is to invest in the education of 90,000 coffee-growing families and encourage younger generations to develop a love of coffee.
“We want to turn the page on violence and start writing a new chapter on dignity, intelligence, decency and opportunities,” Antioquia Governor Sergio Fajardo said June 20 at the closing ceremony for a week-long camp for young coffee growers, which took place in the town of San Jerónimo.
Apart from providing young people with opportunities, the project strengthens the government’s institutional presence in the region by bringing it closer to the people, especially those living in remote villages.
“We are going through the whole [Antioquia’s] territory, educating people,” Fajardo said.
Coffee-growing families are aging and many young people aren’t interested in following their parents’ footsteps, the government said. This trend could jeopardize future coffee production, according to officials.
“We need to change the easy-money mentality that leads youth to drug trafficking and violence,” said Jaime Velilla Castrillón, Antioquia’s secretary of productivity and competitiveness.
Additionally, the speed with which younger generations can adapt to change and their ease with new technologies were factors behind the government’s decision in aiming to bring more youngsters into the coffee industry.
“It’s hard to get coffee growers to change their habits in their work,” Fajardo said. “The goal is to help the current generation of coffee growers understand market demands with the help of their children.”
The program organizes camps where young people spend a week receiving training in all areas of the production process of coffee. They also are encouraged to pass on what they have learned to their families and other farmers in the communities where they live.
“I didn’t know that coffee could have different aromas. Now I know that we should treat coffee with incredible care,” said Santiago Orozco Osorio, 16, who participated in the first camp held in June.
After learning about coffee’s entire production chain, Osorio said he would like to study to become a barista, a specialty coffee professional.
Cristian Alejandro Úsuga, 18, already knew about the process of planting and harvesting coffee, but in the camp he learned about the steps for turning beans into the brewed beverage.
“I love the countryside and I want to study a lot to be able to contribute to my land, so that my family’s property could be recognized as a quality producer,” Úsuga said.
Change in coffee growers’ habits
Just like their children, small coffee growers receive training to optimize their production. By improving the quality of their beans, their coffee can fetch a higher price on the market and they can increase their income.
Trainings are carried out via talks and visits by specialists to plantations. Additionally, leaders in the farming community are selected to pass on what they have learned to other producers in a familiar language.
“Just from seeing the branch of a coffee tree, I can tell what problems it has and give advice to my fellow farmers,” said Julio César Cano Muños, one of the leaders in Titiribí municipality, in southeastern Antioquia.
To get better value for their product, farmers also can benefit from workshops on the entire production chain, from planting until coffee is brewed and served.
It used to be common for coffee growers to sell their entire harvest and for their families to drink instant coffee. Now, after learning how to roast and grind coffee at home, they have started consuming their own beans.
“We are going to produce gourmet coffee and bring about social transformation,” Fajardo said. “The goal is to bring young people into the project and for them to come to see the rural sector as having opportunities for a dignified life.”