BASF, a leading worldwide chemical company, and Cooxupé, the biggest coffee cooperative worldwide, invited CoffeeTalk to take part in a Brazilian coffee media summit in April. About one third of all coffee in the world comes from Brazil, making it by far the world’s largest coffee producer. In the 2015/16 season, about 50 million bags were produced in Brazil. The coffee plantations are mainly located in the southeastern states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Paraná where the environment and climate provide ideal growing conditions.
CoffeeTalk sent freelance journalist Max Vershinin who was able to talk with farmers, agricultural experts and executives from BASF Crop Protection, and visit a number of coffee farms along the way. Max was able to view the latest technologies in growing coffee in Brazil, and how BASF and Cooxupé work together to contribute to more sustainable agriculture in Brazil. Max also learned how the coffee value chain works together, and also was able to meet and hear the personal stories of Brazilian coffee farmers.
This April, I travelled to Brazil to meet up with hard-working coffee farmers and explore what Brazil has to offer coffees today in terms of quantity and quality.
After watching BASF’s presentation and attending a Sustainable Coffee Conference in Sao Paulo, several journalists and I visited Cooxupé, Brazil’s biggest coffee cooperative, based in a small city Guaxupé, in the southwest of the state of Minas Gerais.
Cooxupé cooperative was truly impressive. It was amazing to see how well everything was organized and how the latest coffee processing technology was implemented on such a large scale. We saw facilities with machines receiving and segregating coffees using light technology, modern labs filled with scientific staff; giant fully automated roasting equipment with a myriad of tubes going across several rooms; and, of course, enormous warehouses filled with millions of coffee pallets ready to be shipped all over the world.
What struck me the most, however, was that with all this technology behind everything that Cooxupé does, they still manage to retain a strong human connection. There is a real sense of community – from the upper management to the warehouse pallet handlers.
Next, we made a visit to several of Cooxupé farmers to understand what makes Cooxupé possible. The farms were well-developed, with modern housing and sophisticated farming tools. Farmers talked about their contentment with Cooxupé thanks to fair prices, farming equipment discounts, and security for their coffee, as crime is still problematic in Brazil. Even coffee beans can get stolen during storage or transport.
Cooxupé is open about their pricing, and they encourage every one of their members to seek the best available prices. Farmers can sell any amount of coffee they choose to Cooxupé and continue selling the rest anywhere else. Cooxupé doesn’t allow private companies to be members; its membership is for farmer families only.
The second part of my trip was to O’Coffee, a specialty coffee producer based in Pedregulho, Alta Mogiana region of Brazil.
There are six state-of-the-art farms with five million coffee trees among Bourbon, Cauaí, Icatu, Mundo Novo, Acaiá and Obatã varieties with average production of 35,000 bags per year. They have fourteen different coffees and custom-made blends – Microlots, natural, pulped natural (honey process), fully washed. Sixty percent of their trees are irrigated using a drip irrigation system. They harvest beans both mechanically and manually, the latter being very rare for Brazil.
O’Coffee is Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certified. As soon as you enter the estate you are surrounded by a natural beauty of green, neatly divided coffee farms. Most management lives on the estate in company-provided housing while visiting clients and coffee professionals are lodged in a converted hundred-year-old train station. The processing, storage and roasting facilities, while smaller in scale, are just as advanced as those of Cooxupé.