Coffee has amazing potential for growth, as well as sustainability for both farmers and consumers. Jorge Sujuy is a young farmer crafting beautiful coffee that inspires a healthy sustainability and growth. He recently inherited a small portion of his father’s land, and has begun caring for the land in such a way that generates a more hopeful future for coffee farming: a focus on quality and seeking direct-trade partnerships.
What is he doing differently? Jorge realized that soil erosion in high altitude plots serve to be a significant problem. Soil erosion causes nutritious layers of compost and top soil to erode away while leaving the plant susceptible to exposed root systems, harsher soil conditions, and less water absorption/containment.
The solution? Jorge brought in logs and tree branches to layer into his coffee rows so that each plant, although growing on an extremely sloped volcano side, can maintain a level area of top soil and compost. He also brought in irrigation lines which help to ensure that his plants are receiving a sufficient water supply throughout the year.
These few methods described help plant development; specifically in the development of the cherries as they grow, ripen, and produce those two beans we all know and love. His work doesn't end there! He's careful about his harvesting and selection process, and has introduced innovative wet-mill processing techniques as well.
What makes Jorge so different and why aren't all farmers doing this same level of work?
Jorge is an amazing farmer because he has hope for coffee farming. He believes that if he does his best to produce the best coffee possible, that in some way it'll pay off for him. And thankfully, he's right! At least that when he's partnered with direct-trade distributors.
In the past, there haven't been too many incentives for farmers to produce a quality coffee. To share this idea best, let's do a side by side comparison of two farmers: "Farmer A" and "Farmer B":
Farmer A: This farmer cares for his coffee cherries well because it impacts many people. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all worked this land. He is proud of his work because he believes work matters to his community, his family, and to his character. He also cares about his coffee, and the collective of other farmers tied together in his cooperative. He spends the majority of his time out in his fields prepping his rows, maintaining a cleanliness of the ground around them, adding compost when needed, pruning his plants when needed, and making sure they have plenty of water. During harvest season, he picks only when ripe, and he will make multiple trips from his lands to the coop so he can deposit only ripe coffee cherries. At the end of his harvest season, he deposits about 4,000 lbs of coffee cherries (800 lbs of pergamino) and will only receive approximately 6,600 Q (which is equivalent to $890). $1.12/lb of pergamino.
Farmer B: This farmer also cares about his coffee cherries. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all farmed his land at one point, and he's proud to still call himself a Campesino. He's a busy man, and he has a great deal of work to take care of. However, what makes him different than “Farmer A”, is that he knows no matter how hard he works on his land, he will only be paid the same each year or based upon how the New York Stock Exchange fluctuated. He spent time in his fields throughout the year and when harvest came, he and his family picked his coffee over 3 days often picking under-ripe cherries. At the end of his harvest season, he deposited about 4,000 lbs of coffee cherries (800 lbs of pergamino) and will receive the same amount as “Farmer A”, approximately 6,600 Q (which is the equivalent to $890.) $1.12/lb of pergamino.
As you can see, the real issue lies with how coffee is traded rather than the farmers themselves. It isn't fair for both farmers to receive the same amount of money when one coffee really is cared for more, and the coffee "cups" higher. When farmers believe that they're going to be paid according to the quality of their work, and they like the price set forth, this perpetuates a healthy relationship where the product of this business generates friendship, and honestly good coffee.
This is where the real beauty of direct trade is. Even though farmers will receive more per pound, it's not just about that. It's about establishing a business where both parties feel valued, and the product is honestly better each year. This is sustainability!