Promoting opportunities for young adults to carry on Colombia’s coffee production heritage
Colombian coffee is prized for its complex yet well-balanced flavor profiles and high-quality Arabica beans. The country’s reputation for high standards has helped it become one of the most popular choices among the three billion cups consumed daily and the third-largest coffee producer in the world, according to the International Trade Commission.
However, the younger generation is turning away from coffee production due to several social, environmental, and economic challenges. Socially, many young adults view agriculture, including coffee farming, as lacking development prospects that align with their aspirations. Moreover, coffee cultivation is no longer considered a profitable business due to various factors such as unstable coffee prices, limited access to more lucrative markets, and climate change-related issues like pests, low production, and loss of biodiversity. These factors are compounded by the lack of access to modern technologies and financing options, as well as limited education in rural areas, which hinder young people’s ability to improve their production and increase their resilience to these challenges.
To address this concerning trend, 4C partnered with Melitta Europe GmbH & Co. KG – Coffee Division to launch a three-year sustainability project, “Improving the working and living conditions of small coffee farmers” in Colombia’s Magdalena Department.
View from one of the coffee farms in Magdalena
“During our initial assessments, we found the Magdalena Department had the greatest need for intervention,” said Kristin Lipps, Sustainability Manager at 4C. “Within the coffee-growing regions analyzed in Colombia, this department has some of the highest rates of rural poverty, youth unemployment and lack of access to education in rural areas. This discourages the younger generation from getting involved in coffee cultivation and thus keeping the local tradition alive. Our aim with this project is to make the sector more attractive to young adults, contributing to the long-term economic and ecological viability of small coffee farms”.
Along with enhancing sustainable agricultural practices and market uptake, the project partners developed various courses that seek to professionalize young adults aged 18-30 in Magdalena’s coffee communities, helping them to diversify their income through non-farming activities
Magdalena is a region renowned for its diverse landscapes, ranging from the vast plains in the south to the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea in the north and the towering Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range at its heart. It is in the lush tropical foothills of these mountains that the department’s more than 4,000 coffee farmers are found but only 4% of them are under the age of 30. Recognizing the potential of the scenic landscape, combined with the interest of visitors to Colombia to learn about coffee cultivation and processing, the focus of the first course was on the development of tourism activities. This aims to provide young people with alternatives and tools to diversify their income through non-agricultural activities, while contributing to the sustainable development of the coffee sector in Colombia. Besides offering accommodation and various activities for tourists, the young adults also took initiative to diversify their product range.
The course focused on ecotourism through online sessions conducted in spring 2022. The topics included community tourism and agrotourism, product development and package design, sustainable innovation, storytelling, and digital strategies. Additionally, the 138 participants had the opportunity to present their already-developed tourism projects to help them adapt the lessons to their individual needs.
Gina Alejandra Rodríguez during the Coffee & Tourism course
“The diploma course has allowed me to learn many more aspects about coffee and how to complement it with tourism, since these can go hand-in-hand,” says Gina Alejandra Rodríguez, a 22-year-old multi-generational coffee grower.
Besides offering accommodation and various activities for tourists, the young adults also took initiative to diversify their product range. For instance, some developed their own coffee brand, directly selling the roasted and packaged coffee to the consumer or started making other products from coffee beans such as tea, sweets, spread or even jewelry. Another product they are developing further is honey made by bees on the coffee farms. These products are sold in local coffee shops where freshly brewed coffee, desserts and cakes are offered.
During the course, Rodríguez presented an agrotourism project that she and her family are implementing on their farm, which offers lodging services, ecological hikes and bird watching parallel to their regular coffee production activities. Rodríguez notes that she wants this project “to be an example for my community” by encouraging other young people to venture into new initiatives to advance their livelihoods.
In addition, to uphold Colombian coffee’s high quality, young adults participated in a coffee quality and tasting course which took place in September 2022. It was an immersive experience for the 60 participants, taking them deep into the world of coffee assessment and sensory analysis. From learning about quality assessment, and coffee threshing, to recognizing flavor profiles and defects in the coffee. The participants gained an in-depth knowledge of physical evaluation and sensory analysis methods. In addition, they received equipment to continue practicing at home and a self-study course to further hone their skills.
Yesenia Gómez Almanza, a 29-year-old coffee grower, says she believes the youth are the future of coffee production because they can “bring fresh and renewed ideas”. She highlights how learning skills like coffee evaluation are critical for Colombia’s coffee sector to grow, especially in Magdalena. “[The course] was very important, rewarding and enriching, as it allowed us to learn how the coffee production process affects the quality of the coffee,” Gómez Almanza says.
Participants of Quality & Coffee Tasting course in September 2022
Another course in February 2023 covered website development and marketing strategies. The one-day in-presence course was requested by those with already developed tourism initiatives following the ecotourism course. Many of the participants currently use social media for advertising their projects, but they want to close digital gaps by learning how to create and maintain a website to bring in more international customers.
Young adults practicing coffee tasting
The final course spans two days in February and March 2023. It will focus on business and entrepreneurship skills like conducting value chain analysis, understanding their business models, developing future business plans and exploring strengths and weaknesses.
With these different training courses, the project is taking a comprehensive approach to empower young coffee farmers in Magdalena with the skills and knowledge they need to make their businesses thrive.
The project—co-financed by DEG Impulse gGmbH with funds from the develoPPP program of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)—will be completed in April 2023. Alongside the training designed to motivate around 250 young adults to remain part of a sustainable coffee production process, the project seeks to improve approximately 500 coffee producers’ agricultural practices to achieve better yields of certified sustainable and deforestation-free climate-compatible coffee. Activities included visiting and providing individual consultation to farmers and conducting group trainings covering various topics adjusted to the current season and needs of the farmers. Further these farmers achieved the 4C certification in the course of the project. Additionally, Melitta Coffee began sourcing the beans produced by these farmers in early 2022; this coffee is part of the Selection of the Year 2023.
Find more information here: https://www.4c-services.org/about/project-portfolio/