Organic Coffee Farming In Colombia
“…It is time for all of us to realise the impact of Climate Change and take part on this organic revolution that will benefit the future of all farmers across the world” – Ottoniel Collazos, Organic Coffee Farmer.
What’s the deal with Organic Coffee Farming?
Denmark is one of the world’s leading organic nations – with the highest organic market share, the most developed organic market and the most pro-organic inhabitants in the world.
Why? We live in the era of the informed and conscious consumers, meaning that we are concerned not only about our health but also the health of our planet, and even though conventional food producers argue there is not enough scientific evidence that proves organic food production has a significant impact on the environment and society, facts prove them wrong.
Organic coffee farming eliminates the risk of contaminating soil and water by avoiding the use of synthetic fertilisers that are packed with chemicals. Not to mention their carbon footprint… Another reason for adopting organic farming is to help wildlife animals – as these chemicals are putting at risk the survival of wildlife. As described on an article by YPTE, an alarming number of birds are falling into danger of extinction after feeding from insects that have been in contact with plants sprayed with chemical fertilisers.
In this blog, I want to talk about the organic farming situation specifically referring to one of the small coffee farmers we work with (Yiver). We will share their point of view in the topic to show you why we want to pursue helping her with the transition to increase organic production within her farm and her local community. I will also elaborate on why the majority of these small farmers are resistant to it, and demonstrate why & how Yiver is promoting organic farming within her region, lastly, the methods she started using for the transition to organic coffee farming.
A Challenging Road
On our trip to Huila at the beginning of this year, we had the chance to talk a lot with Yiver and her family about the challenges they faced with the transition to organic coffee farming. One thing Yiver mentioned is that most farmers seek for short-term returns on their coffee in order to maintain a fast and consistent inflow of revenue from conventional coffee sales in the domestic market. This is the source of income they would use to purchase everything they need to operate in their farms…
So, why do farmers relate traditional farming methods as faster returns?
Well, the chemicals used in artificial fertilisers and pesticides, promote faster growth of the plant, greater yields and also gets rid of pests and diseases faster.
In the long-run, these chemicals diminish coffee’s quality considerably, contaminates soil and water, decreases the plants life cycle, gives the farmers fewer opportunities to enter international markets where the standard of products are quite strict and off course the use of these chemicals will contaminate coffee even after going through all the processes it takes to export coffee from Colombia, which exposes consumers around the world to undesirable diseases.
Read about: Effective Microorganisms
Another reason why in her region farmers feel challenged to opt for organic farming is because it is very hard to get exposure to international markets, where better prices are paid for higher quality coffees, without the right network and/or opportunities. Therefore, they seek for immediate solutions by selling their coffee to Cooperatives, where they squander most of their margins since Cooperatives are within the usually extensive list of intermediaries in the value chain.
As a consequence, they see organic farming as a waste of time, because, in their minds they will lose the margins anyways and it will take longer to sell. It is important to note that Cooperatives do enable small coffee farmers to sell their coffee in international markets since a great portion of buyers trust these Cooperatives, because they give a sense of helping a larger share of the community instead of just providing benefits to one farmer by doing direct trade.
Judge or Player… but not both!
Lastly, they mentioned that the grants and funds the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC: Federacion Nacional De Cafeteros) allocated for small coffee farmers across various regions are mostly in the form of artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides. Since the FNC is somewhat involved with the commercial houses in charge of selling these synthetic fertilisers, the wholesale and distribution of these, is on their financial interest, Yiver explains.
After asking Yiver what does she consider that could be done to achieve a level playing field, she said, “The FNC should be either the judge or the player, but not both”. What this means is that with an organisation as big as the FNC – it sets and imposes national standards, and basically decides what coffee goes out of the country – playing as a judge, but also as a player in terms of monetising their power will of course make it an unfair game to play for small players like Yiver.
.Moreover, more effort should be put on supporting farmers who are willing to transition to organic farming. Yiver and her family are visionary farmers who see the big picture. They acknowledge the additional effort it takes to grow organic coffee, but they also acknowledge the additional benefits of growing it. This is why they’ve been doing so for the last year and a half and will continue to do so. They want to serve as an example for all coffee farmers in their region and nation.
Ottoniel, Yiver’s husband says, “Less than 10 years ago, I could feel the sunshine on my face and the fresh breeze every morning, and I had sort of an idea of the months when it rained. Now, you never know what will happen with the climate; we have long periods of droughts and long periods of floods. It is time for all of us to realise the impact of Climate Change and take part on this organic revolution that will benefit the future of all farmers across the world”.
Transition to Organic Farming
Initially, she started studying and attending courses to specialise herself with the methods of organic coffee farming. At the moment she tells us that most farmers are still skeptical towards this path but that slowly more and more are starting to adopt her methods. Her dream is to create her own biodynamic farm and integrate her model in farms of the women of the association for the benefit of the whole group.
Yiver is a leader of an organisation of women coffee farmers in Colombia called ALMUCAFE, dedicated to helping farmers across different regions to make a living out of coffee.
This is why she, along with 2 other women coffee farmers that jumped in the organic boat with her (Susana & Chabella), started their own Bio-Factory. What is a bio-factory? Basically a factory made from renewable plant and waste-by products rather than chemical or petroleum-based. The purpose for it, is to produce their own organic fertilisers and biopesticides with waste produced from their own farms.
On our 2nd day in Huila, we had planned to visit 2 other small farmers. We arrived to Chabella’s farm, almost 30 minutes away from Yiver’s, where they started their own shared bio-factory and a shared land for demonstration, which is basically a piece of land designated for organic coffee in the farm. In this demonstration lands, they have organic geisha flourishing next to plantain trees, “yuca” and other trees that provide all the necessary nutrients for the plants to grow under the best conditions, for example, plantain trees are a great source of potassium for the coffee plants.
They told us that this bio-factory is not only saving them a substantial amount of costs in comparison to traditional fertilisers and pesticides but they are also a potential source of revenue. They could sell these products to other producers that want to form part of the organic revolution. Also they are willing to share all their knowledge as they know they will benefit greatly from this as more and more farmers join the movement.
On our visit to the bio-factory, Yiver and her son Cristian took us through the different fertilisers they are producing, what they contain and what they are used for. We decided to share this information with all our readers so you can also dig in and start creating your own natural fertilisers and pesticides if you are a nature lover with a big garden, or if you grow your own crops! Or simply if you wanna lear more about what goes behind your coffee. Here we go:
Organic Fertilisers Produced in Bio-Factory:
1. Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate Broth)
Yiver’s Empirical Data
Combats stem and coffee leaf fungus
Combats Roya or the scientific name Hemileia Vastatrix (Coffee Sickness, affects mature leafs, it can provoke leafs to fall and loss in production yield. In the injuries formed in the leafs, fungi spores are also produced.)
Heals and scars the stem after “zoqueo” (Zoqueo is a term used by coffee farmers referring to the act of pruning coffee trees) The term in english for the overall definition is: Prune
Stimulates growth of fruit trees
Data Found in Research
Improve soil structure
Improve acid soils
Treats aluminum toxicity
Increase aeration and water infiltration
Reduces nutrient runoff and soil erosion
Provides the coffee plants with primary and secondary nutrients key for its growth
Chemic Alternative: Alto100 (Powerful triazole that provides curative control for plant diseases in cereals and soybeans)
Drawbacks of Alto100:
May cause cancer to farmers using it.
May cost the life of the coffee plants and soil where it was applied on.
Organic Alternative: Limestone or Agricultural Lime (Similar purpose but with a different reaction, i.e. Limestone affects the PH level of the soil. Studies show Gypsum has deeper penetration in the soil as it is far more soluble)
2. Organic Fertiliser “Supermagro”
Cow’s & Bunny’s excrement → Provides Microorganisms
“Guarapo” (Sugarcane drink typical from Colombia) → Provides Energy
“Suero” or Whey (Watery part of milk that remains after the formation of curds) → Provides lactic bacteria, fermentation
Egg shell → Provides calcium
Ashes → Provides minerals
Beer → Provides yeast
Use: Organic Fertiliser
Promotes growth for the coffee plants (Improves land fertility)
Supplies the plants with nutrients that are extremely important for its health
It also enhances the immune system of farmers in direct contact to it
Reduces the chance for the plants to get infected by pests and diseases
3. Organic Fertiliser "M5"
Acid, bitter and repellent plants and herbs. (Chilli pepper, onion, garlic, rue, nettles, water, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, vinegar, laurel, ginger and pepper)
Controls pests insects, nematodes and fungi.
Chemical Alternative: Chlorothalonil
4. Organic Fertiliser "Trichoderma"
Trichoderma (Benefic Fungi) – 8 spoons
They serve as parasites for malefic fungi and it helps protect the root system of the plants.
this is why Kaffe Bueno is eager to help these women spread their voices and opinions and promote organic coffee farming for the benefit of all the farmers that find themselves in situations where they feel marginalised. These initiatives take time and dedication, but the results are only positive both for society and our planet!
Note: The stories shared are based on the experience of Yiver and her knowledge on the members of the association. We have to clarify that all these situations vary across regions and are also relative to the accessibility to resources of certain farms.