Coffee runs in their veins: the lives behind the beans

Blog by Anthony Marten, March 23, 2018

Puede leer este blog en español aquí.

For many coffee farmers in Latin America, a cup of coffee represents much more than a drink that wakes us up in the morning. For them, it is the embodiment of their hard work, dedication, and sacrifices. I had the opportunity to travel to coffee farms in Andes, Colombia, and speak to beneficiaries of the Farmerlink project, part of the SAFE Platform co-managed by Hivos. Through loans, individual farm management plans, and technical assistance, they have been able to make the most out of their farms and grow as individuals. Here are a few of their stories.

Lina María Vélez and Oscar Alejandro Echeverrí

In Risaralda, I met Lina and Oscar, who are managing the farm of a producer who no longer lives in the area. Their faces lit up with contagious smiles as they told me about their experiences taking care of another person’s farm as well as their own. They have planted a variety of crops in order to generate a more consistent and fluid year-round income. Mid-interview, their son and daughter returned home from school, filling the room with innocent energy and cheer. Oscar and Lina hope that the benefits that farmers receive through the DelosAndes cooperative will still be available for many more years, in hopes of having their children benefit from cooperative-funded scholarships for university studies. We ended the visit with Oscar climbing a zapote tree and selecting the best fruit to accompany our conversation, which revolved around similarities and differences between Costa Rican and Colombian cuisine at that moment.

Lina Vélez and Oscar Echeverrí

Francisco Gabriel Quirós

Mr. Francisco’s daughter was the one who helped him document important information about the farm. Recently, she started working as a teacher, leaving her mother and father with the full responsibility of managing their farm. They say that the technical assistance provided by the project has helped them learn how to document necessary information to better understand the best practices for coffee production. This year, he was able to build a new coffee dryer thanks to a loan given through Farmerlink. Francisco is proud of being a coffee farmer and of seeing his farm and his family grow.

Francisco Quirós

Omar Álvarez

Ever since Omar decided to affiliate with the DelosAndes Cooperative five years ago, he has been able to start improving his farm by installing wastewater treatment, correctly spacing his plants, and keeping better control over his expenses. The services received through Farmerlink have motivated him to keep searching for ways to improve his family’s life through coffee farming. Following in his father’s footsteps, he has dedicated his entire life to this art. His farm, called “La Ilusión”, or “The Dream”, has been used as a model of how to live entirely off the production of this crop. One of Omar’s dreams is to help future generations stay in love with coffee.

Omar Álvarez

An uncertain future

During each of these visits, I met lovely people with experiences that highlight the challenges and benefits of living off of coffee farming. Without exception, I was offered food and coffee at every home. I was even invited to stay with several of these families during future trips. Nonetheless, I am worried. The growing effects of climate change, the older average age of the farmers, and price instability on the coffee market are only a few of the factors affecting the lives of smallholder coffee farmers that make their future uncertain. That is why, on International Coffee Day, and every day, it is important to highlight projects that aim to improve the lives of smallholder farmers like the ones implemented by the SAFE Platform. This way, we will be able to start our days with a warm cup of sustainable coffee for decades to come.