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The Coffee People

 Colombia is a country of contrasts. Not only of geographic, climatic, and natural contrasts but also of cultural, of habits, traditions, beliefs and ways of life according to the region. Nevertheless, around coffee cultivation a series of firm believes and values have forged, that have a great impact not only on the final quality of 100% Colombian Coffee but on the passion and dedication associated with its cultivation.

To start, it would be good to remember that there are more than 563,000 families producing coffee  in our country, from the provinces that limit with Ecuador, in the South, up to those that border the Caribbean Sea in the North.  Along nearly 3,000 kilometers (almost 2,000 miles) of inter Andean valleys, from the extreme South to the extreme North of Colombia, live those producers in different coffee growing regions.   As one can observe in the following map, in Colombia is cultivated a coffee bean of high altitude, with a significant number of plantations in 16 departments of our country, were Departmental Committees of coffee growersoperate (see the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation site for details of the Grower's organizations).

Most Colombian coffee growers live in small farms whose coffee cultivations plots do not surpass 2 hectares (5 acres) on average. Only slightly more than 5% of Colombian coffee producers have coffee plantations of a size bigger than 5 hectares (12 acres). The reduced dimensions of their coffee plots have allowed maintaining an essentially family oriented activity to the Colombian coffee growing industry. Thus, the people of coffee in Colombia believe that thr family is their most important priority, and are very keen on protecting and maintaining a strong set of family values.

The arduous work that implies growing and bringing quality coffee from the tree to the cup allows understanding the importance of all the processes in which Colombian producers intervene to sell a coffee with the characteristics of quality with which the Colombian Coffee is distinguished. Given the structure of the property and the average size of the Colombian coffee growing farms, in most occasion the work of harvesting and post harvesting (see about coffee for details) are carried out by the producers themselves, reinforcing their special commitment to the product that comes out from their farms. In a similar way, the same coffee growers are the ones who, when being employed as harvesters in bigger farms, have helped to consolidate the processes and patterns to interact with the product that have developed in the different regions of the country. Consequently, thanks to this interaction between smaller and larger coffee growers a culture of quality has been developed, associated with the hard work mainly handcrafted, to obtain outstanding coffee of a superior quality. The people of coffee in Colombia are clearly dedicated and committed to their product. 

Around coffee in Colombia surged a number of social networks with a diversity of cultures and features, including different indigenous, afro descending communities and the heirs of the settlers of white or mestizo origin, all of them with diverse cultural manifestations between the regions. These are people whose music, accents, and even their language vary significantly, with Caribbean or Andean influence, which contributes with this marvelous coffee idiosyncrasy that distinguishes the great family of Colombian coffee growers. Colombian coffee growers have left their differences aside to be able to work together in obtaining common objectives, and have learned to develop a spirit of collaboration difficult to replicate in other industries or other countries. Thus, the people of coffee in Colombia have developed a community spirit and of collective action which are also part of their most cherished values, and that has allowed them to develop a very particular institutional framework and ambitious Sustainability That Matters  programs.

This spirit of collective action to search for solutions to common problems was forged as from the arrival of coffee to Colombia. As it can be appreciated in our section a beautiful story in our Colombian Coffee section, starting in the XIX century producers saw the necessity to search for better conditions of access to international markets and aspired to obtain stability in their incomes. Additionally, Colombian coffee growers required technical assistance, adequate credit lines, and storage facilities to make their activity viable. Because of their relatively isolation due to Andean topography, the coffee growers also needed somebody to represent them to improve their capacity of negotiation against foreign companies that dominated the export market. The importance of these concerns is better appreciated if one takes into account that at that time the domestic coffee price could be equivalent, at times, to just a 50% of the price paid by international traders. It was in that context that coffee growing community leaders decided to create an institution that would combine a business vision with the search of public benefits.

Thus, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FCN) was created in 1927 as a private, non for profit trade organization, whose main objective was to defend the income of coffee producers. Thanks to the effort of their Federation, the cultural diversity of the producers was not translated in substantially different methods of production and cultivation, guaranteeing that behind the product they would always apply the best quality standards and the best science and technology, which has allowed Colombian Coffee to develop policies of guarantee of origin. Thanks to their Federation, the Colombian coffee growers have conformed one of the biggest social networks in Latin America and maybe the biggest rural NGO in the world, confirming once again that coffee is much more than a beverage.

The existence of more 500,000 coffee growers also shows the importance that coffee has for the economic and social wellbeing of Colombians. On the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation 70th anniversary 1997, University of Maryland' professor Mancur Olson, whose Works on collective action and the fall and rise of nations are considered seminal in economy and political sciences, described the scheme that got together Colombian coffee growers as an unique case in the world. This opinion describes the singular character of the institution that Colombian coffee growers have created.

Unlike what has happened in the case of other coffee growers guilds and associations in the world, the Federation has been a key factor in the development of a system to provide a superior quality coffee bean and to guarantee that all coffee growers participate of the economical benefits that derive from it. In the first case, the Federation has built since many decades ago a set of mechanisms to elevate and preserve the quality of the beans, as described in our Colombian Coffee section.  Also, the Federation has been keen in developing Colombian Coffee demand generation initiatives. Among these it is worthwhile mentioning the Juan Valdez® brand character and the 100% Colombian Coffee Program. In the second case, the Colombian experience demonstrates that institutions can solve the asymmetries and difficulties that are present in certain markets such as the ones faced by Colombian coffee growers, where big buyers have a bigger negotiating power and a better information than small producers isolated in their regions of origin.

In short, the values of the people the coffee in Colombia include their honest work, permanent effort and dedication, culture of quality and an interaction between their family tradition and the modern world; these values are present in the Juan Valdez character as well as in each inhabitant of the Colombian coffee growing areas, and that have played an important role in the dynamism of their regions. The coffee growing families, united by their principles of democratic participation, solidarity, commitment, search for their common good and sustainable development, conform a social and strategic capital, and a model of peace for Colombia. This coffee culture has passed from generation to generation and today youngsters follow this life model, as a guide for the future. They also are people 100% dedicated to transmit the best of themselves in their coffee growing activity. They are also people with lives to the 100%

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