In early October CoffeeTalk Media, along with other guests and journalists from around the world, was invited to Colombia to attend ExpoEspecials Café de Colombia in Medellin and to witness firsthand the success behind the collaboration between the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) and the government of Antioquia. Now going on its third year, the Antioquia Specialty Coffee Program is contributing to a social transformation.  This unique program offers technical assistance, education in science and innovation, and the promotion of specialty coffees. The goal of the program is to invest in the education of coffee growing families and encourage younger generations to develop a love of coffee. Of course, the program must adhere to the FNC sustainability policies that impact the coffee growers, focusing mainly in the areas of productivity, and impacts to social and environmental concerns.

Antioquia is only one of 32 departments in Colombia and its slogan is “Antioquia La mas educada” (Antioquia the most educated). It is comprised of 125 municipalities of which 94 grow coffee with an estimated 83,300 coffee growing families.  Thirty percent of these are women farmers. The average age of a grower is 55. Faced with dwindling interest among young people for farming and little history of local consumption, the FNC and the government of Antioquia joined hands to devise a revolutionary educational program to benefit the people and to position Café de Colombia as the richest coffee in the world.

ExpoEspeciales Café de Colombia is the most important specialty coffee fair in Colombia and displays the coffee industry’s trends and innovation in the domestic and international arena.

The FNC is a non-profit business association, popularly known for its “Juan Valdez” marketing campaign and is probably the largest rural NGO in the world. It is a non-profit organization and is not affiliated with any political party, instead investing in sustainable farming practices and the education and promotion of coffee-growing families.

CoffeeTalk was privileged to tour several farms, wet and dry mill facilities, eco mills, the FNC Training & Experimental farm, an educational park and a coffee camp as well as attend press conferences with the governor of Antioquia, Sergio Fajardo; the President of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, Luis Genaro Munoz; and of course Carlos Castañeda, the real Juan Valdez.

As much as the breathtaking beauty of the region and the warmth and hospitality of the farmers and the FNC mesmerized us, we were most impressed by the emphasis on knowing your coffee from seed to cup and the depth of education the Coffee Camp program offers. While striving to retain pride in the rich culture of Colombia and focusing on the science behind growing coffee, the Antioquia Specialty Coffee Program is empowering both the existing and the new generations of coffee growers.

Antioquia Colombia is rich in history and culture where old meets new and much of life centers on the Town Square and coffee. We were fortunate enough to view and explore the beautiful towns of Venecia and Titiribi, and a few of the outlying farms where we saw simple growing techniques as well as innovation like the sliding roof that allows the beans to shade dry, but can quickly cover them should it begin to rain. While old methods still exist, we learned that 80 percent of all Colombians have cell phones and the farmers are being trained on how to use that technology to track their crops. The government and FNC are also working to train them on and provide farmers with tablets. We experienced the dedication and distance it requires to get the harvested coffee from field to mills and purchase points.  We stood on -and sometimes fell on- the steep fields where the coffee grows.  We met the icon for Colombia and coffee in general. Much thanks to the hospitality of Carlos Castañeda from Andes for allowing us to visit his farm and taste his coffee. Viva Juan Valdez.
By working together the Colombian government and the FNC are setting a prime example of how to support sustainability, industry, and education to continue improving the lives of coffee growers and the quality and integrity of Colombian coffee. All while encouraging the “in country” consumption of and pride in their own product.

We began our journey in Medellin and headed south, escorted by representatives of the FNC and were able to witness how the joint efforts between the Antioquian government and the Colombian Coffee Federation are improving the lives of coffee farmers and the quality and value of their coffee. Representatives of the FNC and the mayor of Titiribi greeted us and proudly showcased the Educational Park built there; a group effort of the FNC, the government of Antioquia and the citizens and growers of the surrounding region. We toured the Esteban Jaramillo FNC Training & Experimental farm, where we learned about the work being done to grow Arabica varieties that are high in production yields yet resistant to rust, as well as view a state of the art weather station for early warnings regarding climate change. The automated weather system sends out data every 5 seconds and works with 104 other automated systems throughout Colombia to constantly track changes and variables. We were privileged to witness the historical pact where David Roche, Executive Director of the Coffee Quality Institute and Luis G. Munoz, CEO, FNC signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Govenor Sergio Fajardo gave personal interview time to visiting journalists detailing how he has worked with the FNC to improve the lives of Colombians. Besides CoffeeTalk, journalists from Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and New York attended.  Colombia is a land of diversity and the four-day ExpoEspecial, with more than 70 exhibitors from different countries around the world, provided a space where the academic, commercial, and cultural aspects could all converge to network and share their knowledge to strengthen Colombia’s national and international coffee industry.

In Antioquia, an alliance was made between the FNC and the government called the Antioquia Specialty Coffee Program. Working together they are building 80 parks, which are community centers where the citizens must work together and submit a proposal. Each park is unique and designed to represent the community.  Each park assigns a local youth to document the history of the town; a position that requires an intense interview process and requires much dedication. The entire community can use the space, but much is dedicated to training in grading, roasting, cupping, and barista skills. This program provides the necessary skills to produce differentiated specialty coffees and promote Antioquia’s specialty origin. Antioquia also sponsors a coffee camp where 1000 youth ages 14-28 are brought in from 94 municipalities for 4 days at no expense to them to learn about the coffees from the seed up. The students interact and learn the value of the coffee they already have and how to improve upon it. They gain the necessary skills to grow, roast, and be a barista. They gain an understanding that they can be important in the coffee world and then take this knowledge home to their families. They are also offered continued education opportunities. All were impressed with the students’ enthusiasm, dedication, and desire to learn about coffee. We met two such youths, one a graduate of a prior Coffee Camp and the other attending, both named Alejandro. One’s ambition is to be a great roaster: the other, to be the best barista in the world.

The partnership between the FNC and the government of Antioquia is a model for sustainability, and through sustainability comes empowerment.  Empowerment comes for the coffee growers through deeper understanding of climate change and soil science. The new skills they accrue allow them to grow a special product that they can be confident will return a fair price; with this, they can continue productively farming their land.

Empowerment for the youth, who can choose to train and learn of the crops and income their lands can produce; that tradition and innovation can sustain them and their future families. Empowerment for women, whose culture has hindered their financial independence and freedom in the past. Empowerment for parents, from accessible educational programs and activities; helping keep their children from turning to the gangs and violence that pull them away from their families and livelihood.
The FNC understands the organizing principle behind sustainability from four domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture. Coffeetalk wishes continued progress and success to Antioquia’s and the FNC’s endeavor.

In 1927 the Colombian coffee growers joined in order to create an organization that represented them nationally and internationally, and ensured their welfare and improvement of their quality of life.
The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation is a nonprofit organization working for the welfare of more than 560,000 Colombian coffee-growing families. Since its founding it has been the main guild in Colombia, with a presence in all rural areas where coffee is grown in the country. Its priority is strengthening the families and communities of coffee farmers, and sustaining their business, so the tradition and quality of Colombian coffee continues to be considered the best in the world.

The scope of the joint efforts of the FNC and the government of Antioquia is too grand to fit into a short synopsis, so we encourage you to visit the websites below to learn more. And see page 10 of this issue and help us celebrate Ms. Carmen C. Montoya, winner of the Colombian Cup of Excellence Competition 2014 organized by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), who sold her coffee at a record price.

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