Shut off by the world for many years, Colombia’s bad high debts and internal conflicts with drugs, violence, and Guerrilla warfare scared public away from engaging in many business and tourism ventures that had to do with the country. However, this is not entirely the case anymore. Maybe it is the beauty of the mountains, the people, or the exotic fruits that taste like they are from the Garden of Eden, but within a few hours of being in the country you wish you had planned a longer stay. The country’s richness in culture, beauty, flora & fauna, and natural resources has always been a mostly untapped potential. Finally, the country has come into its own and travel, tourism, export and foreign investments are improving national prosperity and increasing world recognition.
On May 15, 2012. The Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Colombia was finalized. Giving way to a new market and new opportunities. In order to help seize this new market, in June 2012, ProExport held a matchmaking forum between 250 local exporters, and 150 international buyers aiming to promote around the world the fish farming, livestock, agricultural, and agroindustry sectors of Colombia. Through these forums ProExport is hoping to eliminate the middleman and provide opportunities for direct trade relationships between Colombians and the rest of the world.
Colombia is not wasting any time. In the past few months talks about Free Trade Agreements have started with Costa Rica, Korea, Turkey and Japan. Being a country with overabundant natural riches has allowed the country to become the primary exporters of flowers into the United States, not to mention the wide array of exotic fruits and other agricultural products that can be found. Climate, and altitude have also made it possible to grow tea in certain regions. At the moment Hindú is the only company that produces tea in Colombia. In addition, companies such as Listo & Fresco are selling frozen fruit pulps, frozen fruits, pre- cooked vegetables, and Colombia’s signature Creole potatoes. Dr. Ricardo Vallejo, Vice President of ProExport stated, “We want to become a pantry for the world.” And this vision is not far from being true.
So what does this mean for Coffee? This means you should expect to see not only green coffee coming out of Colombia, but also added-value products like roasted coffee, coffee concentrates, and confections. For many coffee farmers, such as the owners of Café Pitayo, the FTA is what is motivating them to go beyond exporting green beans. They have now diversified to selling roasted and ground coffee. For Rafico Gómez, Manager of Café Pitayo, the FTA has opened way for vertical integration. “This has allowed us to control and guarantee the quality of our coffee; control is not lost in the middle man.”
Likewise, Miller Olaya Toro, Manager of the San Isidro Co-op, sees this as a new opportunity to reach the international market. San Isidro is an organization of 100 producers, which comprise a total of 700 hectares of coffee. Since 2005, they have participated in the Cup of excellence, winning five times. For Mr. Olaya, this is a great opportunity to promote coffee and products that are 100% from origin, as well as promoting their achievements of quality and sustainable practices. Representing women in coffee is Lucía Londoño Jaramillo, General Manager of Hacienda Venecia. She has looked to diversify and truly promote the culture of coffee in Colombia. This Entrepreneur woman is involved in her family’s estate farm located in Manizales, Colombia; she is selling everything from green and roasted coffee to Barista training and cupping courses. Ms. Londoño comments, “We want the revenue from value added products to stay in Colombia and benefit our country.”
Beyond the increase popularity in value-added products, Colombians are taking the initiative towards certifications. They are recognizing the need to differentiate Colombian coffees from other countries and stand out in the market. However, certifications are not the only competitive advantage that the national companies are seeking to acquire, inventiveness and innovation are a constant effort. Guava energy snacks; alternative sweeteners; frozen exotic fruit pulps; even flavored iced coffee machines, manufactured by Colcafé, that make Peach and lemon iced coffee (which amazingly was pretty tasty) are emerging from this transformed economy.
According to Alberto Lora “Colombia is becoming an exporting platform for people who want to export to the United States and other countries.” Last September the Wall Street Journal accredited Colombia as one of six developing nations that “are being touted as the next generation of tiger economies.” These countries are known by the acronym CIVETS* (and no, I am not referring to the little coffee eating creatures who’s digestive track has become the latest coffee processing method).
Even though Colombia still has struggles with security, this should not overshadow Colombia’s momentous achievements in reducing overall levels of violence. Colombia’s motivation to becoming a world economy is nothing less than admirable.
*CIVETS – Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa