No 30

Michael Sheridan Recognizes Café de Colombia’s Strategic Social Capital

September, 2015

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Michael Sheridan Recognizes Café de Colombia’s Strategic Social Capital

The coffee specialist of the NGO Catholic Relief Services (CRS) recognizes that commitment to quality and differentiation is a great contribution to the industry, and that the purchase guarantee is the envy of producers in other countries because of stability and transparency in coffee pricing.

The strategic social capital built around coffee as well as the commitment to quality and differentiation are some of the main contributions by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation and Café de Colombia to the global industry, Michael Sheridan, an expert in the specialty coffee industry and sustainable development at the NGO Catholic Relief Services (CRS), highlights.

“Colombia has never seen coffee marketing as different from its social impact; there is a social fabric built around coffee. Colombia has always sought to maintain that social capital through the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation and its integration with commercial and social programs. That effort serves as an example for other coffee-growing countries,” Sheridan says.

“Café de Colombia has made many contributions to the global coffee sector, starting with its narrative around quality-based differentiation. So it is not surprising that the best schools study the idea that Colombia means quality. That narrative has been evolving, of course, and now it’s somewhat different from what it was before, but Café de Colombia helped move the conversation toward quality,” he notes.

CRS is the NGO that led a recent sensory and statistical study that concluded, in a preliminary way, that samples of Caturra and Castillo grown and processed in similar conditions in 22 farms in the Nariño department did not show significant differences in average scores of the two varieties.

‘Cenicafé, a global leader in coffee research’
The preliminary results of the study led by CRS, which also had the collaboration of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Songer & Associates firm, cup tasters, specialists and the exporting company Virmax Café, confirmed that the Castillo® variety developed by Colombia’s Coffee Research Center (Cenicafé) is capable of producing a cup of the highest quality.

Cup tasters recognized in the international market of specialty coffees repeatedly scored samples of this variety with more than 90 points. The study also suggests that Cenicafé is developing not only varieties resistant to such diseases as rust, but of the highest cup quality.

So Sheridan, also a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Sustainability Council, recognizes the quality of research at Cenicafé and the importance of this scientific work especially in the specialty coffee segment, which he considers the most susceptible to climate change.

“Cenicafé has been a leader globally in breeding and in coffee research more broadly. This is an important moment in specialty coffee, with traditional varieties so susceptible to climate change and to increased production risks; it is particularly important for research to address these threats and ensure the continued viability of specialty coffee and the coffee sector more broadly,” he says.

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‘Purchase guarantee, the envy in other countries’
CRS has worked in Nariño directly with the Departmental Coffee Growers Committee on renovation, and Sheridan shows himself impressed by the institutional work to make it easier for growers to renovate their coffee plantations with varieties resistant to rust compared to other countries.

“In the 12 years that I’ve been working on coffee at CRS, we had never had a more robust collaboration with any coffee institution. What we have seen in terms of renovation – the combination of agronomic assistance in the field, provision of certified seed and linkage with financial institutions offering loans for renovation of coffee plantations – is impressive,” he acknowledges.

The expert also says that the purchase guarantee is the envy of producers in other countries. “Before coming to South America and working in Nariño, I spent four years working on coffee in Central America, where there is nothing like a guaranteed purchase.  I think it is the envy of producers in other countries and it has done much good in coffee-growing communities,” he notes.

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“I know that now this policy is subject to debate, but from what I have seen in my work in Nariño, it has been very useful in terms of transparency of prices for farmers,” he adds.


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