Traveling into the region of Cauca is an adventure.
The landscape is beautiful and from the plane, the view of the green jungles beckon to me through the minuscule window, teasing my heart with what lies ahead. While the Colombian people of this region are warm and inviting, political circumstances and unsettled terrain battles have dealt them a hand of cards that still leaves significant question marks about the safety and security of this place. In fact, two days before my arrival, the mayor of the primary town (where we stay) in this area had a bomb placed on his doorstep. Fortunately no one was injured, but it did explain the meeting we stumbled upon in the dark corner of a closed restaurant, where seven individuals were attempting to convince a man to run for mayor. We didn’t get to hear the sales pitch, but my guess is that it was more challenging than it would have been a week prior.
While travel to this region can be arduous, requiring multiple flights and hours of driving, the relationships with our incredible farmers continue to bring me back, knowing that there is meaningful work to be done. Just a few short years ago, these farmers were primarily growing coca, the leaves of which are used in the production of cocaine. Along with that illegal drug comes the collateral damage of the trade, with farmer’s families able to tell heartbreaking stories of kidnap, rape, death, and much more. They have since converted their working lands to grow coffee, bringing about new opportunity and the capability to restore so much of what was once shattered.
Growing coffee is not easy work, and the producers we work with do not have the experience and knowledge that comes with working on a multi-generational farm. After initial planting of seedling coffee shrubs from a nursery comes a wait time of 2-4 years before the first full harvest. Even after the shrubs are producing, there are many challenges for a coffee farmer. Disease, complicated processing methods, and unstable weather patterns are just a few of the obstacles faced by our partners in Colombia.
Checking in on Norberto
Our newest partner, Norberto, is in the second year of waiting for his first harvest. Two years ago, I was in the Cauca region at Norberto’s farm, physically tearing out coca trees with Norberto and his family. We were preparing the land for coffee. I was able to visit Norberto’s farm again on this trip, and was thrilled to see shoulder-high healthy shrubs all over. Norberto is still in a difficult waiting stage, as he has no real income until his shrubs are in full coffee production. Waiting for the first harvest requires real sacrifice, but a sacrifice our partners are willing to make in order to extricate themselves from involvement in the drug trade.
We were unable to visit all of our producers’ farms, unfortunately. Although we had plans for travel to Victor’s place, I was unable to follow through due to high risk of kidnapping by the ELN.
The volatile National Liberation Army (ELN) has seen an upsurge in activity and membership since the regression of the FARC in recent years. During my stay, the ELN had cordoned off key sections of land that would have been my access route to Victor’s farm.
Our friend Pablo
Despite some of the difficulties, there were still many wonderful moments with our friends and partners. Perhaps the most beautiful moment of this trip came during contract negotiations for this seasons harvest. After coming to an agreement on pricing for the green coffee, I was taken aback by Pablo who became emotional on the front porch of his farm. He explained that this was the most they had ever been paid for a crop, either coffee or coca. I keep thinking about this gratifying moment as it reinforces and reminds me of why we make significant investment with our partners at coffee origin. Lives change based on where we invest our resources.
Thank you, our customers, partners, and friends, for being a part of this work. We’re honored to join with you all to make ideal coffee for an ideal world.