The primary objective of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) extension service is to ensure the ongoing training and knowledge transfer to coffee growers so essential for boosting crop production and yield quality and for improving the lives of Colombia’s farming families.
Recently, MEAS (Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services) a USAID-funded global project, cited FNC’s Extension Service as a benchmark for other agricultural sectors in Colombia and the world. MEAS noted that while other models focus almost exclusively on technical assistance and production, the FNC model is comprehensive—attending to social aspects, community and associative development and support to families.
In an average year, the FNC Extension Services, which fields 1,500 trained men and women, directly contacts coffee growers from all over Colombia 1.5 million times. In addition, FNC stays in close touch with growers through other channels, including 64 rural radio stations, eight regional newspapers, a national TV program hosted by the fictional character, Professor Yarumo, virtual communications via cellular and e-mail updates, calendars and materials distributed nationwide.
In executing the model, an FNC extension agent will be updated with the FNC´s research center’s (Cenicafé) latest developments through online instruction and in-person training in the Manuel Mejia Foundation educational headquarters, taking advantage of Cenicafé instructors and materials they produced. Field practices and visits to the center are part of the curriculum. Course material covers basic computing, soils, extension service methods, climate and coffee production, holistic rust management, ecological post-harvest processing, and other topics relevant to good agronomic practices.
FNC Extension Services and grower support, along with FNC’s research center Cenicafe, are critical in preserving and protecting the quality of Colombian coffee and its Denominations of Origin. Extension training ensures a reliable supply of crops and high- quality product while expanding marketplace access and improving business opportunities for small farmers.
The innovative technologies, agricultural practices, sustainability protocols and farm management skills introduced by FNC Extension Services enable growers to operate more cost efficiently and become more competitive by selling at higher prices. Also, the FNC´s extension service helps growers adopt different programs, such as Colombia´s successful fight against coffee leaf rust. All of this works to advance Colombia’s coffee growing families higher up the value chain, enhancing the quality of life for farming families while strengthening and stabilizing communities.
FNC agents, who are meant to be friends as well as advisors, are committed technicians who understand how to communicate with producers and inspire trust. Agents representing FNC must be able to transfer their knowledge effectively and in a way that generates adoption of the recommended practices; they must be equipped with people skills and the ability to relate to the coffee growers and their families.
The approach taken by the FNC places the focus more on the farmers and their families than on the physical coffee plantations. The emphasis on human and community rural development that characterizes the delivery of Extension Services programs has generated trust from the coffee growers towards the FNC as a coffee institution.
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According to MEAS, almost 75 percent of the world’s poor are subsistence farmers, with over 400 million farmers operating on less than two hectares of land. Smallholder agricultural systems are increasingly managed by women, underscoring the social importance of agriculture, which has been identified by the World Bank as “a driver of growth and poverty reduction” in rural areas.
The overall impact of FNC’s Extension Services is to help alleviate poverty. Readers can help sustain and expand the FNC Extension Services model, which MEAS has called exemplary, through funding support. With so many benefits impacting the lives of coffee growing families, several coffee roasters, such as Nespresso and Nestle, have joined the FNC to increase the reach and the depth of Colombia´s successful extension model. Those brands that believe in the important role FNC technicians play in improving the lives of Colombian coffee growers establish cooperation models and common objectives. Also, with the support from Colombia´s national and regional governments, the FNC has been able to increase the number of extensionists to nearly 1,500 women and men that deliver technical expertise to farmers.
Luis F. Samper
Colombia, 22 departments (out of 32) in Colombia, where coffee grows
The Extensionist Service model has impacted more than 400,000 coffee growers in Colombia.