By Roberto Vélez, Chief Executive Officer, Colombian Coffee Growers Federation
“A cup of coffee is not just a commodity, it is a life.”
Colombian coffee has always pushed the boundaries of what is accepted as the status quo.
The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) was created in 1927. Eleven years later, Cenicafé, Colombia’s Coffee Research Center was founded. Juan Valdez, the character and most important coffee icon in history was in advertisings all over the United States and many countries around the world since 1961. In 1981, the 100% Colombian Coffee program was launched.
What has been coffee’s most successful advertising campaign? Juan Valdez. It was about the character. His integrity, hard work and good practices produced high quality coffee.
First there was the coffee grower, and then there was a great cup of coffee.
The main goal for the FNC from its inception has been improving the living conditions of Colombian coffee growers.
Every sector, company and person tends to have his/her own interpretation of what sustainability really means. There is environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability; among others.
However, if a farmer is starving, he will not have the energy or the resources to protect the environment. If he cannot live a decent life, he cannot contribute to improve the social fabric of his community. Therefore, the wellbeing of coffee growers should be the priority for the whole industry. Once we have reached that goal, we can start to build from there.
That is the real sustainability. In order to protect the environment, we need to protect the coffee growers. In order to assure high quality standards, we need to protect the coffee growers.
How can we expect to have a future generation of coffee growers if the current one can hardly make a living? It’s impossible. And without coffee growers and coffee, there will be no global industry. The sustainability table has three legs. All of them have to be of equal length if we want the table to be stable.
We cannot take the risk of letting our coffee growers continue working from dawn to dusk while the current coffee price conditions replicate the uncertainty principle: they don’t know if they will be able to feed their family the next month, the next year, the next decade.
They don’t have a pension. They will reach their old age with no future after working for decades in coffee production. The average age of Colombian coffee growers is 52 years. It doesn’t differ much from the average age of coffee growers in many countries in Central America, Africa and Asia.
Colombia has been a country of social innovation for coffee growers, and we want to be part of the solution.
In 2027, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation will celebrate its 100 year anniversary. To commemorate our history and the values that we hold so dear, our goal is to become 100% sustainable.
We are designing our own sustainability code based on the needs of the coffee growers and the market. Colombia will be the first country in the world producing coffee under sustainable standards. The country is already the leading supplier of high quality and specialty coffees.
As producers, we want the global coffee industry to thrive. However, the entire chain has to be profitable, starting with the coffee growers. We want coffee to be an attractive business for everyone.
Let’s embrace what sustainability really entails. This is not an isolated matter that affects Colombian coffee growers; we can see it all over the producing countries. There are over 25 million coffee producing families. Coffee growers around the world deserve to have a good life. Our approach without boundaries creates collaboration and benefits for all.
It is also crucial to educate the consumer. Ten cents increase in the price of a pound of coffee at a supermarket could mean an entire month of food for a family of coffee growers. The consumer is not only buying coffee, he is contributing to the social fabric of producing countries.
The most compelling reason is that a cup of coffee is not just a commodity, it is a life.
This is the time to question ourselves about how we can contribute to improve the living conditions of coffee farmers. We have to do it for them and for us.
Who will be the next generation of coffee growers if we don’t tackle economic sustainability?
We would like to have a pragmatic dialogue with the industry. We need your support to engage all the supply chain towards a common goal. The lives of millions of coffee growers around the world are at a stake.
If the wellbeing of farmers is not sustainable, the coffee business around the world will not be sustainable.
We have to embrace coffee sustainability from its roots: coffee growers.
Let us shape the future of coffee.
Roberto Velez Vallejo serves as Chief Executive Officer of The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.