Volcano supports sustainable livelihoods in Colombia
Every year, Volcano Head of Product, Nick Mabey travels to the communities that produce the coffee we roast and serve here in the UK. It's a bonus that we're able to gather photos to share the stories of the farms but it's only a small part of why we feel it's our responsibility to visit in person.
Sourcing great tasting coffee is one part of Nick's job and visiting farms directly is the best way to get amazing tasting coffees. But trading coffee in the specialty markets or Europe also presents a much larger opportunity. When you drink a coffee here in the UK you are directly supporting the trade model in which that coffee was procured. Traditionally the trade model was one that promoted prosperity for the few at the cost of the many small holders farmers .Now, however, as ethical coffee is increasingly demanded in the UK we share an opportunity to change this for good.
As roaster's we're now able to partner with friends such as Miguel Fajardo and the team at Raw Material and source coffees that support positive initiatives centred on sustainable livelihoods, social progress and conservation of the environment.
The model functions on mutual trust and building long term partnerships where open communication and a commitment is the foundation for further collaboration. Since 2017 Nick has been visiting the farming communities of Colombia where we source the coffees that make up our flagship Fullsteam coffee and Bold blends.
At present this model for positive change is under threat as cafes, restaurants and pubs in the UK are enduring forced closures and demand for specialty Colombian coffee has already dipped. The big threat now is permanent closure of small independent businesses and the potential collapse of what is a fragile supply chain, dependent on the end consumer.
For Colombian coffee farmers, coffee is not just their main source of income. Coffee is the lifeblood of their communities and provides the majority of their annual income, supports seasonal workers and community initiatives too. .
The last few years, however, have been difficult for Colombian farmers and faced with a turbulent market for coffee many have faced a crossroad: either find alternative means of income outside of coffee, or find a more stable and sustainable market to sell coffee into. That's why the specialty European market is so important as it can be this stable market to support financial growth and ultimately independence.
Our objective is to achieve stable and sustainable prices for community coffee lots through improved quality control, shared knowledge, and a connection to the specialty coffee market.
Commitment to paying a fixed price for coffee gives farmers a much needed stable and secure income, at a higher price than they were receiving previously. By working with Raw Materials', farmers have been able to increase their annual income from coffee by a minimum of 60% each year.
We encourage farming communities to reinvest this extra income back into their farms, by upgrading their coffee drying beds, making improvements to their processing methods, and experimenting with micro lots of new coffee crops. These sorts of upgrades are key to farmers being able to improve the quality of their coffee so they can command even higher prices.
Progress in the broader community has also been supported since work began with farmers in Colombia three years ago.
For example, after the El Carmen Association was established, houses in the village have been re-roofed and re-rendered. In addition, young farmers and female farmers have joined the El Carmen Association, bringing in much needed gender diversification and demonstrating that the next generation can see a future in coffee production.
Red Associations encourages farmers to protect their local environment and eco-systems. We have asked Raw Material to share best practices for environmental protection as part of their their coffee processing trainings, and to encourage farmers to adopt these practices.
Though changing perceptions can take time, farmers who already recognise the importance of protecting their local eco-systems have implemented their own environmental initiatives. For example William, a progressive young farmer, has set aside over 40% of his farm to forest regeneration.