Tibed Yujra of Puno, Peru on Puno History & Launching An Association During Covid

We were lucky to get a chance to sit down with Tibed Yujra, a long-time partner in Puno, Peru, in the Foxhole for a conversation about his work in organizing a new producer association, Puno’s recent harvest, and the challenges posed to both by the Covid-19 pandemic. For more background on Puno’s history and Tibed’s role, click here.  

 

Aleco Chigounis: Hello everyone, welcome back to the Foxhole! We have a very special episode for everyone today. I am joined by my talented co-host Ali Newcomb. Ali is the managing director of our export and sourcing operations in Lima, Peru and Oaxaca, Mexico. Welcome Ali! How is the weather in Lima?

Ali Newcomb:  Good, very good.

Aleco: We also have a very special guest today, Tibed Yujra. Tibed is a former Red Fox employee, who left to start his own producer association and sourcing operation in Puno. Tibed has been a very close friend of mine personally for well over a decade and has a really amazing professional career history, and he’ll tell us all about everything he’s done back then and what he’s doing now. Welcome Tibed! 

Tibed Yujra: Thank you so much Aleco for the invitation.

Aleco: It is a pleasure, my friend. It has been a long time. How is everything in Putina?

Tibed: Always good, we are all good, very good here.

Aleco: It is important to know by the way folks, that Tibed is joining us from Putina Punco, deep in the Sandia Valley way out in the producer area just above town, in a little hamlet called Chorrillos. Tibed, can you tell us a little bit about your family, where you are from? I know you have gone from the plateau to the jungle and everywhere.

Tibed: My family came from the mountain range of Puno, and the majority of the people who settled in the jungle of Tambopata where I live, they are also from the mountain range. My parents settled there years ago. I was raised there and have lived there since. Then and now, my family has always been in the coffee world, and that’s why it so much.

Aleco: That’s good, and Tambopata is the jungle where you find all the coffee of the Sandia Valley, or no?

Tibed: Not only in Tambopata. We have two valleys: Tambopata, and the other one is called Inambari. 

Aleco: And that is where your family is from and where the famous area of Tunquimayo is, no?

Tibed: Exactly.

Aleco: That is good. Can you tell us a little bit about your professional story? How did you start in the coffee industry? And how did you get from there to here in the present?

Tibed: Yes, it’s a long story. Basically, it started with my parents. They started producing coffee in this jungle and I started working with them, to see how the coffee grew, how the production works, how the export companies work—the ones that existed here during those times like Cecovasa and other cooperatives. Now that my parents are older, they moved to the mountain range, to be more comfortable and take care of their health. And so, that is how I started. I then started working in Cecovasa almost 11 years ago. Sometimes I worked in the warehouses and sometimes quality control in the laboratories. After I left Cecovasa, I went to work for a nonprofit in Haiti called Veterinarians Without Borders. I helped a lot of Haitian producers to improve their coffee quality during those times. After that, I started working at Red Fox alongside Aleco, and with everyone in the team that are still working there.

Aleco: That is so good! A question, how long were you working for the group of the vets in Haiti?

Tibed: About two years.

Aleco: I remember when you and I met the first time in Putina, sampling something like 200 coffees in only two days. 48 hours cupping like crazy, and we became very close friends over there. But after, you left to go to Haiti, and to go work at other levels as more of a consultant. Then we met again in Incahuasi, right?

Tibed: Exactly! Yes, I worked at a cooperative in Incahuasi for a term as a consultant, and we saw each other then too, when I was finishing the consulting work there. 

Aleco: It made me really happy seeing you again. From there, we went together to the future, no?

Tibed: Yes, exactly!

Ali: Tibed, I wanted to ask you—we are very excited, with everything that you have initiated this year, your new project in Puno. I wanted to know if you could tell us a little bit about this project, and how it has been?

Tibed: Yes. The fact is that there are many producers, and despite all the effort that they put in at the farm level, they don’t receive the appreciation or money they deserve, and that is the reason why we have started to build an association to help the producers. So they can receive a fair price for the quality of their coffee. It’s a huge endeavor to cultivate the coffee, it’s not an easy task. I also have a farm, and it’s very complicated to produce specialty coffees. It is intense, the reality of a producer, and I think that work needs to be rewarded. That’s why we started this project: to put together a group of producers, organize them into an association, and allow them to export their own coffees, and so they can receive a fair price for the quality of their coffees and their work. 

Ali: And how has it been? Because, you started this in full pandemic, and even though you’ve known a lot of these producers for years, you’ve started from zero this year. All the social parts, talking to folks about all the work that you were going to do, the logistics of it, tell us a little bit about how you’ve been working this year?

Tibed: Well, for me, it has been very complicated basically because of the pandemic, because it was really difficult to travel or even communicate with the producers. The producers themselves were afraid, so they didn’t want to receive visitors. In general, it’s helped me a lot to know many of the producers of the area of Sandia. Both valleys, in Tambopata and Inambari, and this is the reason why they have trusted me so much. I think it’s fundamental. Definitely there have been a lot of roadblocks, but I think we’ve achieved something.

Ali: Yes, we are trying the samples of the first container and they are spectacular. 

Tibed: It makes me really happy to hear this.

Aleco: You have done an excellent job getting the best producers. Better than ever before. The coffees of the producers that we have been buying for the last 10 years or so. Good job!

Ali: Can you tell us more about the challenges that come from your specific location? Because you are working in a place that is very remote, where there aren’t any banks. What challenges have you had in that area, with financials and logistics?

Tibed: Yes, indeed, it is very difficult. The financial area especially, because it’s so fundamental to try to cushion the finances of the producer. They don’t have the luxury to be able to simply give you their coffees and trust that you’ll pay them later. They need some upfront payment. So, this part has been very complicated. As you know well, this area is very far away from the city, the trip is very long, and since there aren’t banks there, we have to try to transport the money safely and avoid theft and other obstacles.

Aleco: Coffee production in Puno has a very interesting history, all the trading and commerce of the coffee, doesn’t it?

Tibed: Yes, it’s very different. I have been in various countries, and I know, like for example in Honduras, the production and transport from the farm to the port is so close that it doesn’t take more than 4 or 5 hours of travel. But this area is so remote. Imagine it, from Putina Puno to the production zone of many producers, and we are not talking about its total, some producers are 6 hours away, some others 8 hours, and then from there to the port or to the processing plant that is located in Lima. It is very far, and we are talking near 40 hours of travel for the coffee, and that is very far, I think is the most isolated part in the world of coffee, if I am not mistaken. 

Aleco: I always tell the story of one time that you and I were in Pilcopata. It was many years ago but, many years ago. We were visiting someone, and we happened to see Mr. Ciriaco Quispe taking his coffee down bag by bag in a wooden wheelbarrow. His farm is almost a whole hour of walking straight up. It is difficult. And I can’t even imagine how to bring down 100lb bags in one of those wheelbarrows. Bag by bag, it has to take hours. Even days, no? It is insane. So, it’s not just a matter of where the production is, but how to get to the town as well. It’s incredible, I’ve never seen something like that in my life. 

Tibed: Yes, the topography is rugged. And making a wrong move while carrying the wheelbarrows, one can get injured or worse. 

Ali: How do you do it Tibed, this year? Did you go and pick up? Did you have a meeting point where the producers would come and deliver to you? 

Tibed: This year we had a temporary meeting point where Silvia has helped us a lot. She is a long time friend who’s also a coffee taster. So, that is the agreement that we made in the production area. But we also had a warehouse that we rented in the city of Juliaca. 

Ali: And from your warehouse to Juliaca, how many hours are in between?

Tibed: Well, by truck, it is about 14 hours.

Ali: That means just one way, no?

Tibed: Exactly, one way only.

Aleco: Can you tell us about your famous wife? Delia, winner of a great place in the Cup of Excellence competition last year and a renowned producer of the highest quality coffee? 

Tibed: Yes, my wife Delia and I started this growing project because we wanted to know the true effort of producing high quality coffee and be able to experience it with our own hands. You can see it in a book, or you can see it in biographies, whatever is written can say something, and something different is what you truly go through and work on. It is very difficult growing specialty coffee and at the same time, it’s a passion, and this is the reason why we started with the farm so we could experience all this. And to explain what truly happens in the farms and how we can actually improve the quality of the coffee for other producers in the community. That’s why we entered Cup of Excellence. Delia’s coffee, our coffee, ended in 11th place. We hope to be able to compete again in the upcoming years and see what happens. To see if we can win, that is also the goal, no? 

Aleco: Yes, I would say we know a lot of the stories of the coffees of well-known Puno producers like Ciriaco and Raul Mamani, Benjamin Peralta, and Wilson Sucaticona of course. And Abdon and Juan Quilla, but Delia’s coffee has added a higher level of quality. That amazing coffee. It is one of the best coffees in the entire continent of South America.

Tibed: Wow! Thank you for your appreciation for our coffee, it makes me really happy, and believe me, my wife is really happy for this as well.

Aleco: Yes, well we thank you so much Tibed, and say hello to her from us please.

Tibed: Of course, that I will do.

Aleco: Ali, what else?

Ali: Well, I’m just thinking you’ve had so many experiences, Tibed

Tibed: Yes. It will take me a life to tell you all of them.

Ali: What has been your favorite part of the farming project that you have with Delia? It seems like you started it primarily to learn from the experience, no? What did you get out of it and what have you enjoyed from it?

Tibed: Yes. In the farm we have many varieties, so that we can see the behavior of the different varieties. There are varieties that are very demanding in the fertilization, there are varieties that are strong and resilient. That is essential to know because, as a producer, if I want to produce specialty coffees, I have to manage my geographic location, I have to look for a good variety, so that knowledge is essential. The farm has taught me all that. What I like most is seeing the differences between all these varieties. I like it a lot because we’re also the ones who apply the fermentation in wet milling, and being able to experience the fermentation to see how it helps us. It’s complicated to use this method. It is very delicate, and just one mistake can damage the entire harvest of the day. 

Aleco: A question about the varieties: what variety does best in the microclimate of Tunqui and Putina Punco and all the area of Tambopata?

Tibed: The bourbons. 

Aleco: The bourbons, yeah. It is a very popular one in the area, no? It is something so special. It has floral flavors like the ones from Ethiopia. 

Ali: Tibed, I wanted to ask you, you have 3 kids, right?

Tibed: Yes, exactly!

Ali: And they have grown there in the ranch cultivating coffee with you all.

Tibed: Yes, during the pandemic yes. They have been here together with us.

Ali: And would you like for them, when they are grown, to be coffee producers? Or for them to do something else?

Tibed: It is a little bit difficult for me to say that because, I can imagine, each of my kids may have other likes, so for me personally, I think it would be good that they would be involved in the coffee world, but I think each of them will decide their own destiny, their own likes. Maybe one wants to be a doctor, or maybe another profession, I don’t know, they might not be involved with the coffee. Maybe they don’t like the world of the coffees but at the end of the day, they will walk their own way. But for me, personally, I would really like that.

Ali: Beautiful outcome.

Aleco: Well, then, is there anything you want to ask us or say to us?

Tibed: Yes, I am very happy to be part of the coffee world. It is my passion, and what I am doing is what I love. The world of coffee doesn’t have borders or a limit, and I think that, beyond borders, we find the world of the coffee growers, of the entire world. I think that we have to communicate with producers, and help the producers to get the best prices for their coffees, and for me, personally, I would be really happy with this. 

Thanks to Aleco for helping me during the 5 years in Red Fox and for knowing so much about the world of the coffee. When I left Cecovasa, I thought I knew it all. Then, I realized that that wasn’t the case, and that there was much more. I think the world of the coffees is very ample and there is a lot to learn. And thank you very much.

Aleco: Beautiful Tibed, thank you very much. You will always be part of the Red Fox family. And you will always be my brother as well. Thank you very much for your time, and for sharing the stories with us. Ali, I don’t know if you have anything else.

Ali: No, thank you so much Tibed, I hope you have a beautiful afternoon.

Tibed: Ok, thank you so much to you too.

Aleco: Thank you! Bye!

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Asnake Nigat of Kata Muduga, Ethiopia on Covid-19, Agaro History, & More

We were lucky to get a chance to bring Asnake Nigat of Kata Muduga Cooperative Union in Agaro, Ethiopia into the Foxhole for a conversation about current events in Ethiopia, the upcoming season, and Agaro history, in which Asnake has played an instrumental role. For more background on Agaro history and the role Kata Muduga has played, click here

 

Aleco: Hello everyone, welcome to the Foxhole. I am here with a very special guest this week, Asnake Nigat from Kata Muduga. Asnake is out in the field in Agaro right now. Asnake, welcome, we are very happy to have you. How are you?

Asnake: I’m good Aleco, welcome. Thank you very much for introducing us to this audience of buyers. 

Aleco: Ah, yes, very happy to do so. It’s been a long time since I personally started buying your coffee and Red Fox has been buying your coffee since the beginning of the business, almost 7 years ago. Can you tell us a little bit how you got started in coffee in Agaro? I know you were a very important person at Technoserve in the original days of the project.

Asnake: Yes, as you know, some of the cooperatives in Agaro started in 2000. In 2009 Technoserve started, so most of the cooperatives joined in 2010. At the beginning, the coffee in this area was not well known.

The majority of the coffee was prepared as a Jimma 5, very poor quality coffee, so the farmers were selling this coffee to local traders. Local traders help, but they don’t worry about the quality, they don’t worry about the preparation, they collect the coffee as usual whereas Technoserve started dividing the coffee based on quality. They also advised the farmers to organize the cooperatives and trained them how to do the business. They trained the farmers to do the business preparation, to use new wet mill technology to process the coffees. They facilitated loans to cooperatives and training. Quality training, processing training, how to process the coffees, how to wash the coffees, how to dry the coffees. So, because of this, most of the cooperatives started with very small numbers. For example, in Duromina when they started at the time, it was almost 75 individual members.

Aleco: Oh, wow!

Asnake: In Duromina, in 2010, they only had one machine with a capacity of 1500kg per hour. Nano Challa started with 123 members and a very small machine, only 500kg per hour. Along with frequent training, Technoserve assigned business advisors to each and every cooperative. Such business advisors trained farmers how to follow up, process on their own, record-keeping, and cash management. These were very important changes for Agaro’s coffee. Now Duromina is very well known, now has three big-weight machines, so everywhere the volume is increasing. 

The dividend that Kata Muduga received from producers (they get 90% and pay the union 10%) at the beginning was almost 200,000 per dividend, but now Duromina, last year, for example, paid the dividend to five million birr. It’s a very huge amount. This year Nano Challa paid a dividend at six million birr. Nano Challa now has two big washing stations. Their members increased from 123 to 740 members. It is a big increment, and this coffee is now well known in the world. It is changing the farmers, how they produce the coffee, how they pick the harvest, so completely that even Jimma 5 (which used to be low-grade) is now very good, high-specialty coffee. The whole starting point to us doing exemplary in these areas was the Technoserve project

Aleco: Yeah, amazing how the value was changed almost overnight, in almost one season, right? For the Jimma 5 to now, the Grade 1 and Grade 2 coffees.

Asnake: Yes.

Aleco: Okay. So eventually, after a handful of years of Technoserve, you formed Kata Muduga Cooperative Union with Efrem and others to manage the cooperatives in the area, correct?

Asnake: Yes, exactly

Aleco: What led you to make that decision?

Asnake: You know, just previously the cooperatives were supplying their coffees to Duromina Coffee Farmers Union in Addis, but there were ups and downs. There were problems because the buyers were commenting differently, creating an obstacle to source Duromina coffees, to source Nano Challa and Yukro coffees. There were some problems and bureaucracy, so because of this, because of considering the different buyers’ comments and also that these areas are each special, Goma and Gera are unique coffees. The areas were good so we thought, why don’t we form one union to export this unique coffee to the buyers in order to be fast, reliable and on time to deliver these coffees? 

This is one reason, the second one is the system. Kata Muduga works on commission, which means that 90% of the price goes directly to the cooperative, so this makes it different from the other unions. This other union is buying Nano Challa coffee, sold to the buyer but at the Ethiopia Coffee Exchange price, so this union doesn’t like the commission system we use at Kata Muduga. Because the majority of the sale, 90% of the sale doesn’t go to the cooperative, it goes to the union level. In the Kolla Bolcha case, the peak, 90% of the price goes to the cooperative, the cooperative distributes dividends to the members. That is the system because, in this case, the cooperative is made of coffee farmers and we want to maximize the benefit they get from their work.

Aleco: Yeah, and it is really tremendous what you’ve accomplished in terms of getting the best value back to the farmer. What year did you start Kata Muduga and how many cooperatives were members of the union at that point?

Asnake: We started the union in August 2016, almost 4 years ago. At that time we had 19 cooperative members. The volume was very limited. At the second year 2017, that 19 raised to 26, at the third year raised to 30, this year during the fourth year, double the original. Now we have 39 member cooperatives at Kata Muduga.

Aleco: 39, that is really great, yes, amazing. Amazing growth, so you are seeing producers from the greater Agaro area wanting to become members and you are building more washing stations. It seems almost every year, no?

Asnake: The washing stations are increasing.

Aleco: Will there be new stations for the coming harvest?

Asnake: This year, we have one new cooperative, Racha, which is very close to Yukro. In Racha there was some problem with the quality last year. This year they are at full capacity with good quality coffee. There’s another new one in Gomma, a very good cooperative called Gerba. Did you taste this coffee?

Aleco: I don’t think so.

Asnake: Yes, Gerba is a new cooperative that is very good quality coffee adjacent to Kolla Bolcha, very good. It’s a newly developed cooperative, a very unique coffee, very high land. We will try to supply these coffees in the next harvest.

Aleco: Oh great, I look forward to chatting about that more. I can’t wait to taste that one. I’m curious about the coming harvest, but it’s really impossible to talk with anyone about their 

coffee harvest coming up without talking a little bit about the coronavirus. How has the virus affected Agaro and the coffee farmers and even yourself in the area out there?

Asnake: Coronavirus? Still, now in this area definitely. But, generally in Ethiopia, especially in our areas, there are not serious cases happening now. There are serious cases in Addis, our capital. The majority of coronavirus cases are recorded in Addis, but not serious issues in this area. I don’t know. 

Aleco: Okay, so maybe people are isolated and stayed safe, I’m guessing, is it true?

Asnake: Yes, in Addis, people are isolated. This disease is most common in the Addis capital city, not around in Agaro or Gera and Jimma areas. 

Aleco: Do you think that there will be an effect on the harvest that’s coming up or will people be able to work as normal?

Asnake: We will see on that, we will see during November. Currently it is not serious enough to affect the daily activities of the coffee harvest. Now, people are working and preparing drying beds, getting the loans they need for the season, everything’s now in preparation and it’s going well. But maybe we’ll see on that in November. Some Ethiopian health ministers expect in November to maybe see an increase of the number of the affected people. 

Aleco: Okay, well you, Efrem, Eden, everyone at the cooperatives and the producers have been in our thoughts, so I’m glad things are okay so far, we hope that everyone can be safe. Going forward and into the harvest and beyond of course as well. How is the harvest looking for the coming season? Is it going to be smaller and larger? 

Asnake: Not smaller, not larger, it is almost medium, almost the same as last years, because you know, coffee by nature is biennial. In some parts we expect high volumes this year and in some parts, lower. So it’s not such a big fluctuation in our areas. It’s consistent, sustainable production.

Aleco: It’s great to have a lot of reliable volumes for the producers to count on. When will the harvest begin this season and when will it end? Roughly.

Asnake: There are two starting times. In a little bit, in areas which are very low. Areas in the union, for example around Agaro, will start in the middle of October. Some cooperatives start after. The other cooperatives in Duromina, in Biftu, in Yukro starting at the end of October and beginning of November. The majority of the cooperative is the beginning of November and the end of November is peak time. So, the end of the harvest is the beginning of January.

Aleco: Okay, so normal season here. That’s good to know. Thank you. What, if any, adjustments do you have to make during the harvest season because of the virus?

Asnake: There is some change. We’ll have to take special care, like masks, sanitization, and also not gathering workers in one area. Distributing people in every bed so there aren’t too many people when sealing the coffees, and washing the coffees so we’re limiting the numbers in a single bed. And also collecting water, so those are some adjustments that will happen in the next harvest. 

Aleco: That makes sense. Do you have any questions for me, Asnake?

Asnake: No questions, just that I see all your marketing and I say thank you very much Aleco, you are doing a great job to introduce and market these coffees. I know you from 10 years ago, you know these areas. Your buyers’ support, it promotes this area’s coffee. I always tell the leaders of Nano Challa and Duromina, Aleco is a genuine buyer. Almost 10 years and above; you are introducing this area of coffees to buyers so this is very great support for the cooperative. Also, you are supporting the coffee farmers in this area, so I say thank you in the name of the cooperative and the union. You are always reliable. We trust you to trust these coffees and to continue sourcing them and advertise more to buyers. I see you, your website, and Red Fox, always writing about this area’s coffee. I say, thank you very much, you did a good job on this site Aleco.

Aleco: Thank you very much Asnake, to be considered reliable is good.

Asnake: When do you plan to visit by next harvest? 

Aleco: As always, I’m hoping there’s a way for me to come and work the same way that we always work, and to make decisions very quickly for you and to get coffee moving, yeah, so you’ll hear from me again I’m sure a few times before the end of the year and then we’ll plan for that. But yes, my plan is to come.

Asnake: In January?

Aleco: Yes, yes.

Asnake: January is a good time. Most of the coffees are moving at that time. The majorities we move a lot by loads. Most in December, starting from December, the middle of December, we move the coffees by loads. So January is a good time to cup that coffee. We will meet then.

Aleco: Perfect, my fingers are crossed to work business as usual again, Asnake and thank you for the kind words. You make it easy to work with you. To work with you and Efrem, and people who are so reliable and honorable. It is really honestly a pleasure for us and to continue to support the farmers in the way that we have and that I have for a decade now. It feels special to continue the relationship and thank you for the comment on reliability, that’s all we really hope we can be, so really, thank you.

Asnake: Thank you, thank you. I hope, I wish great success for you and your company, Red Fox. We will continue to work together, thank you very much Aleco. 

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Red Fox’s Fabian Viveros León Talks QC, Mexico, & Covid-19

A third generation coffee worker, Red Fox’s Fabian Viveros León learned about coffee cultivation, quality control, and trading from his father in Huila, Colombia, starting at a young age. Currently living in Oaxaca, he manages quality control for Red Fox Sourcing Company, running the lab, overseeing dry mill operations, and spending time in the field managing producer relationships. He also plays a key QC role in Peru and Colombia during sampling and shipping seasons. In fact, he’s in Colombia right now doing just that. 

We talked with Fabian about growing up in coffee, what it’s like working in quality control, the challenges he saw as Covid-19 ramped up in Mexico this year, and what he sees for the future. Since Fabian speaks Spanish, this interview has been translated into English by Red Fox’s Carina Barreda. 

RJ Joseph: Can you tell us a little bit about growing up with coffee?

Fabian Viveros León: My experience starts at home. I am the third generation that has been dedicated to working with coffee in Colombia. Growing up with coffee gave me the opportunity to learn all about coffee trees, processing, and trading. In 2014, I started learning about cup quality control, purchasing, parchment storage logistics, and in 2016 I began working formally as a purchasing and logistics analyst.

RJ: How did you end up working in quality control?

Fabian: A question was generated within me. I wanted to know how the process of evaluating coffee worked. So, I came across coffee cupping and its derivatives. From there I began to enter this new world of coffee, which I did not know previously, and that now has become my life and passion.

RJ: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen for producers regarding quality in Mexico?

Fabian: The biggest challenge that I encountered within Mexico was the lack of knowledge about the crop and how to work it properly. Also, gaining the trust of people who have been scammed previously. Another challenge has been dealing with the non-acceptance of new knowledge and practices of processing coffee to improve their product. Coffee is not a primary economy for the Mexican smallholders, so there is a lack of interest in developing new and better practices.

RJ: If coffee isn’t the primary economy of the producers we work with in Mexico, what is? What is their incentive to produce quality coffee?

Fabian: According to what I have observed, the primary livelihood for Mexican smallholders in the coffee-growing regions is divided between agricultural activities (planting corn, beans, vegetables, among others), sale of typical clothing from the region, and wooden crafts. The incentive to produce quality coffee is to diversify income sources since there is national and international market demand. Producers have seen a possibility to improve their livelihood with this crop.

RJ: What were some of the biggest successes over the past season?

Fabian: We strengthened business relationships with small producers. We have been able to form trusting relationships and provide producers with a sense of security that we want to work with them in the next harvests. Another success is that we were able to have a broader presence within the area and create a meeting point in Oaxaca for small producers. 

RJ: How does it feel to have the job of assessing quality and, in certain cases, telling producers if their coffee passed or failed as someone who’s been in a multi-generational coffee-growing family?

Fabian: It is a very big responsibility because you have to give the producers security and confidence to speak directly and explain the reasons for the approval or rejection of their product. In addition, you have to try to motivate them to keep improving and keep working with us to follow up on their successes and failures. The important thing is to speak to them from personal experience, to relate better, and to have compassion.

RJ: What do you think are the biggest challenges for you working in QC in specialty coffee?

Fabian: The biggest challenges are communicating the client’s needs, changing the way producers think and their understanding of how to manage their crop, and also all the follow-up for the additional work we’re doing. So basically, it’s communicating that knowledge, communicating that need, and starting to do the work. It’s a challenge for all producers in any part of the world.

It’s a chain, and when you get the producer to understand the whole process, the follow-through, the feedback, seeing the final result is really gratifying for me as the person doing the quality control, and also for the producer because they understand that it’s not just producing coffee, it’s putting your heart into it, investing passion—that is the most important for producing good coffee.

RJ: Which specific challenges do you think the pandemic will highlight for producers?

Fabian: To be able to transport their products to sell, that implies that they could expose their safety in order to be able to make an income and survive. Most producers are already at high risk for this disease, they are elderly people (average 60, 80 years of age). This will be a challenge for them and the leaders in their communities to establish control of entry and exit of people and limit exposure.

RJ: What was it like finishing the last season with the pandemic beginning to shut things down? What has it been like in Oaxaca since then?

Fabian: It was a tense moment for everyone. We had to start communicating with the producers so they could transport their coffee from their communities as quickly as possible. We had to find solutions and facilitate their transportation to the drying mill and thus avoid production delays, shipments, and other difficulties.

Oaxaca since then has been coupled with Covid-19 control measures. For a month, only essential services were open, and over time other types of non-essential services were available, with the necessary control measurements to adapt to the “new normal.” Now, there are already 75% to 85% of commercial activities operating for the national and foreign populations. 

RJ: One last question: are you feeling optimistic about next year in Mexico and the seasons that are happening now in Peru and Colombia?

Fabian: Yes! For next year we expect to see even higher coffee production, strengthen our commercial relationships, and look for new strategies to find new farmers. This year was very difficult for coffee farmers, and they will need the next seasons to overcome this 2020 crisis. I feel very optimistic about what we’ll see in the 2021 harvest.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Puno, Better Than Ever

Puno coffee—if you’ve had it, you know it’s unforgettable. Puno is one of the most exclusive and renowned growing regions in all of Latin America, and while we buy all the volume we can from our producing partners there, there just isn’t that much. The coffees are some of the best we taste all year not just in Peru, but in the whole world. Puno coffees have a dedicated following and are typically gone before they arrive, so we may not talk about them very often. But Puno, located in the South of Peru where Red Fox started, is a huge part of our story.

Members of what is now Red Fox had been working in neighboring Southern Peru region Cusco since 2006, but were pushed out in 2007 by a large, corrupt cooperative union that ruled the Cusco region and all the groups within with an iron fist, preventing us from buying coffee at higher prices and maintaining traceability. When we were pushed out of Cusco, we connected with trade partners in Puno and started working there in 2008, meeting producers and tasting their coffees, which were (and are) truly exceptional.

After tasting the incredibly floral offerings that come from Putina Punco at the 2008 National Cafe Y Cacao board competition, which governs coffee trade in Peru and held an annual COE-style competition and auction 10 years before the inaugural COE Peru, we met with Tibed Yujra, who was at the time the head of quality control for a large cooperative union based in Puno. During that visit, we cupped through a veritable ton of coffee with the cooperative: the ten best, they sent back to auction, and the rest, we bought. We’ve been buying Puno coffees since then.

Over time, we struggled with the cooperative union in that area, and they dealt with high turnover. Tibed left and did consulting and QC work elsewhere, and we met back up with him in Cusco after that region reopened to us, coming to work for us shortly thereafter. We discovered that the cooperative union we worked with in Puno wasn’t paying the full prices back to producers that we had promised and paid to the organization. After a few years navigating the situation in Puno as best we could and trying to get money back to the producers, Tibed left Red Fox and started his own company in Puno, helping us connect with producers and make sure they get paid the prices we promise them as well as helping them maximize the coffee’s potential. This year, we’re more excited than ever about Puno.

Puno, and specifically the subregion of the Sandia Valley where the producers we work with live, is home to some of the original Bourbon the UN brought there in the 80s in order to combat the growing coca trade. Because the UN isn’t a coffee organization, they brought Bourbon instead of the hybrids that became so ubiquitous throughout Latin America, a decision that was key to the coffee landscape as it currently exists. Most of the farmers there are smallholders, growing on an average 2.5 hectares of land.

The reason there’s so little coffee coming out of Puno each year is that despite the UN’s efforts, the coca trade has since reclaimed most of the Sandia Valley. The farmers we work with are some of the last coffee growers in the area. While some farmers are coerced into growing coca, others are understandably attracted to the faster, multiple growing seasons and higher prices coca promises. We’re excited to see Tibed organizing to make sure fair coffee profits get back to the farmers remaining in Puno and we see many good things on the horizon for this unique subregion this year and into the future.

In addition to Putina Punco, we buy coffee from Massiapo, Quiquira, and Yanahuaya, all within a relatively close vicinity within the Sandia Valley. Sandia Valley flavors are extremely dynamic, more so than any other region in Peru. The Caturra coffees in the area have a prolific combination of sweetness and acidity, with dark fruit character like both red and black currants and a crisp, apple character with both weight, sweetness, and a refreshing malic acidity like both apple and pear. When you roast them, they’re complete and balanced as well as nuanced and dynamic. That’s what the Caturra is like, but when you hit pockets of Bourbon you find coffees that come with flavors you associate strongly with East Africa: floral, complex, and intensely sweet, like honeysuckle and hard candy. They may not have the level of complexity to the acidity as Ethiopian coffees, but the dynamic of sweetness is unmatched.

 

Interested in sourcing coffee with us? Reach out at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.comTo learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

FUDAM’s Raquel Lasso Talks Differentiation, Ecoforestry, & Covid-19

After over 12 years working with FUDAM leader Raquel Lasso to source coffee from Nariño, Colombia, we wanted to open the floor for Raquel to speak directly to the specialty coffee market. Some background on Raquel: she’s an innovative leader who inspires the best work from her community and gives it in return. In conjunction with her work in FUDAM, she formed a group called Manos de Mujeres that focuses on the empowerment of women growers within her community. Coffee growing can be a macho, male-dominated field, and a group that’s women-led and hyperinclusive adds a huge amount of value to the larger community. Their projects include getting the group FTO certified to increase income (especially for producers on the lower end of the quality spectrum) and opening an organic fertilizer facility so that organic production doesn’t come at the expense of productivity or conservation. To read more about the smallholder communities of FUDAM and Manos de Mujeres, click here.  

What follows is an interview with Raquel, first aired via the Foxhole on August 14th, 2020, edited for length and clarity, and translated from Spanish to English by Red Fox’s Ali Newcomb. Raquel has a lot to say to the specialty market, and we’re happy to help her build the space for producers to talk directly to consumers.  

Aleco: Raquel, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your family? How did you get your start producing coffee in Nariño?

Raquel: I was born into a coffee producing family. As long as I can remember, I remember waking up to the sound of the coffee depulper. The most beautiful memories of my childhood are of being alongside the harvest, the wet milling, the selling of coffee, and enjoying the result of that sale. Coffee production has been the engine of development in our area. Because of coffee, many families have been able to get ahead. 

My family was big, and of the nine only two of us were able to study to become professionals. For me, and later for my brother Jeremias, my father’s vision was that we could acquire more knowledge, so that we could lead a happier, more beautiful life, a life where things were done with clarity. When I entered university, my father said to me, “I’m not sending you to university so that later you can look after me. I need you to go to university so that you do something for people like us: humble, without knowledge, and many have taken advantage of that lack of information to harm us, to not give us what is fair, to ignore us.” At that moment I understood his logic: I need you to work so that people don’t treat other people the way they treated me. And that has been our endeavor in life. 

We have to make it so that others live better, so that others have better prospects in life, and that’s what we’re doing. Jeremias and I, and I say this not with pride, but with truth, we have spent our lives trying to make it so that the history of our people, of our neighbors and our friends is written beautifully, and that all of us can have an abundant life. They raised my father under the logic that you had to be poor to go to heaven. Our logic is the opposite, it’s to live well, to have an abundant life, to have what you need. And do what we can so that others have a beautiful and abundant life. I think we came here to build heaven together with everyone else.

Aleco: To go deeper with that, what led you to start FUDAM?

Raquel: When we started FUDAM in 2000, we were clear on several ideas and one of those is that we, the producers, have a lot to do with degrading the environment because of poor agricultural practices, not just in coffee but in all crops. FUDAM was born with the idea of starting, among the producers, to improve and change those agricultural practices to minimize negative influence on the environment.

We realized we needed to continue with that ancestral tradition of helping our neighbors, of helping those who live close to you, of making those regular visits that families make. I remember when I was young lots of people dropped by my house. Nowadays those visits are more limited, and with the pandemic even more. We knew that as an organization we had to continue with those traditions of social interconnectivity among families. 

On the economic front, we were aware that the problem for coffee producers is that they are the ones who work hardest, assume the greatest risk, but earn the least. On the other hand, the trader assumes the least risk, works the least, and earns the most. If I send a load of coffee, and something happens to that coffee along the way, the one who loses is the producer. The trader isn’t going to say, “listen, there was a problem and I’ll pay for it.” No. 

We experimented with trading beans, trading vegetables, trading fruit, but it was very complicated, because of unfair competition, lack of working capital, and also logistical challenges, especially transport because transporting fruit is very complicated. We realized that coffee, unlike fruits and vegetables, had greater potential because it has a guaranteed market. We could have a more effective impact on coffee producing families, not only from an environmental perspective, but also from an economic perspective and familial perspective. In that endeavor we realized that coffee was a product with the potential to develop a commercial process using the logic that everything should be shared. You share the profits, you share the workload, and you have to share some of the risks. 

Aleco, I remember that you came many years ago with a man named George. You were really young. We realized that there was a good market for quality coffee, that it was possible to produce quality coffee, coffee that could be differentiated, and that it was possible to have a traceability system in coffee. Those are all of the things we at FUDAM had always wished for. We discovered that for us, as smallholder producers, producing high-quality coffee was the viable option. For the large scale producer, because they have a lot of coffee, the little they earn per kilo adds up. For us smallholder producers, if we don’t earn much on our small quantities, we are left with nothing. 

We started to do that work of quality, of differentiation, of traceability. Now there are other groups that work similarly, but back then we were the only ones who worked that way.

Aleco: How has the power disparity between traders and producers informed the way FUDAM operates?

Raquel: When I receive the coffee from our members, sell that coffee, and receive premiums for the better quality of that coffee, the majority of that additional payment has to go to the producer because the producer is the one who does the majority of the work, that puts in the majority of the effort and who takes on the majority of the risk. 

For us, that focus on ethics was easy. Why? Because we are coffee producers, we know what it is to wake up early, we know the whole coffee production process. So, if we know the production process, what is our philosophy? I treat my fellow coffee producers the same way I would like to be treated, with honesty and with transparency. I like things to be transparent, to be just, and to be clear and that’s how we work at FUDAM. We take that price premium and we transfer it to the producers. We only take what is necessary to cover the costs for the process of commercializing that coffee, the logistical costs. 

Aleco: Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges FUDAM faces in general? 

Raquel: As an organization of smallholder producers, our biggest bottleneck is working capital. Because of producing families’ economic circumstances, they need to bring their coffee to the FUDAM warehouse and be paid immediately. For the moment to get this capital, we not only take out bank loans, we also take out personal loans, and personal loans are very expensive and very complicated. Now, in these times with the pandemic, I started to think about a lot of things. I have a personal loan, and if something happens to me, what happens to my family? What happens to my daughter? My children? But if I have a bank loan it’s much easier, because with a bank loan there’s insurance, there are possibilities for the person who takes out the loan. 

This year, fortunately, we did have credit from the bank, even though we also had to take out personal loans. But FUDAM’s endeavor is that, to reach the point where we don’t need to, and hopefully there is time in this life and this virus doesn’t knock on our doors. 

Aleco: Can you tell me a little about how you’ve diversified production at FUDAM and what you’re currently working on with respect to ecology?

Raquel: We need to reconvert our coffee production into what we call agroforestry. I produce coffee, but I also have other products on my farm that not only increase my income, that not only feed me, but that also contribute to improving the environment. It’s a beautiful process, and the farms here are very different than the monocrop farms of 20 years ago. These farms have avocado, lemons, bananas, yucca, beans, other products that help to improve the quality of life of the family. We’re in the midst of turning our coffee plots into diversified gardens. I connect vegetable plots to food security, but I think of a garden as something whole, something varied, where you have absolutely everything. Thanks to the support of our buyers and roasters we’re achieving it. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re doing the work, and I know that with everyone’s support we’re going to go far. 

Aleco: You’ve talked a little about power dynamics between traders and producers. Can you say more about how FUDAM fits into that and where roasters fit as well?

Raquel: We all have to do our part. The producer does their part. We as an association and as producers do our part, the buyer does their part, the roaster does their part and the consumer does their part. I think it’s very cool that a roaster, in the US or anywhere, can know about us and we can have them visit and they know that if they drink a cup of coffee and pay a good price for that coffee, part of that good price is to reach the producing family here so that things don’t get stuck along the way. We are a private organization, and as a private company we should show ourselves and everyone that you can work honorably and transparently.

At the public level we have seen, if you do an analysis of the coffee sector in Nariño, it’s received more than 60 billion pesos but if you ask a coffee producing family how much of that they received, they won’t have an answer. If you go to that producer and ask, how much did you receive from FUDAM in premiums? They’ll be able to tell you without a problem, 500 thousand, one million, two million. Last year one producer received 7 million pesos for his coffee. If you ask a group of coffee producers: how has the government modified your quality of life, they’ll be left thinking, and likely won’t have an answer. But if you ask them: how has FUDAM contributed to changes in your quality of life? Without a problem someone will raise their hand and say, for me my life changed in this, in this and in this. And they are real, concrete things. So we do see, in coffee production, very good potential to contribute so that all of us as coffee producers modify and improve our quality of life.

Aleco: Could you tell us how the harvest is going?

Raquel: The harvest is coming to the end, the only coffee left is from the highest areas. This year was really hard, there was very little coffee because there was a lot of renovation. I didn’t think it would have such an impact on the harvest, but it was very hard. The pandemic also didn’t allow for harvest and wet milling to happen at the opportune time. The quality of the coffee declined. 

Aleco: I know that the prices on the local market have also been unusually high due to the pandemic. How did that affect FUDAM? 

Raquel: For the producer it’s excellent. The producer wants to seize the moment and sell their coffee at a higher price. But it has made things difficult for us. For one, because for us as organizations collecting coffee it is difficult because of the lack of working capital. Higher priced coffees mean a lot of upfront investment for us. But for the producers it’s great. 

I also feel bad because there was very little coffee in our area. It would have been a great opportunity for our producers, but unfortunately last year the prices were low and people renovated their farms. Hopefully next year there is more production, and hopefully the prices stay high. 

Aleco: How else has the pandemic affected the producing areas and farmers?

Raquel: For us as farmers, as residents of the countryside, the truth is the pandemic has provided an opportunity for us to spend more time on our farms and be in closer contact with our plants, to be in closer contact with our surroundings. We have been blessed, blessed because to be confined to a house in the countryside where there is coffee, where there are animals, where there is a vegetable plot, where there are things that aren’t confinement, that’s pleasure. 

But it’s worrisome to see the people who live in very small quarters, 50 square meters or 60 square meters must be disastrous. 

Also for us coffee producers, this pandemic has been a moment to look within ourselves and say what have I done and what do I still have left to do? This pandemic taught me that when the time comes of being faced with the end it makes you think, what am I taking away from this, and what I take away is what I did for the rest, and what I leave is the memory people have of me, so one way of not dying is to stay in the hearts of those you leave behind, to do something to remain in the hearts of everyone else. 

Aleco: How else has it affected you economically?

Raquel: From an economic perspective the pandemic has hit us hard. For example, we had to go out to the “corregimientos,” which are a nucleus of producers or of several communities, because a lot of our producers are older. So we loaded up the roaster and lab equipment and went up there to cup and receive the coffees to avoid producer risk.

I would tell my producers, it makes me nervous that the next time we have a meeting we have to ask which of our members are missing. That would be very painful. The idea is that we protect each other, and if you think that by not coming here your odds are better we’ll go to you. It increases our costs and complexity, but we’ve done it and we’re satisfied because our producers are more relaxed. In the warehouse we say “come, leave your coffee, I’ll weigh it, and go. And I’ll call you on the phone to let you know what happened with your coffee so that there aren’t any problems.”

Aleco: Has the pandemic affected your community’s health at this time? 

Raquel: The farms at FUDAM didn’t have too many complications because the farms are integrated: we have bananas, yucca, sugar cane, there isn’t a lack of fruit or vegetables, so it was easier to feed the family. To date none of our members have had any health problems related to COVID, but it has been an effort for everyone to try to come out ahead and try to overcome this. 

This is something where you tell yourself, I have to live and protect myself and do what it takes to get through this moment. I think we’re close to the end of the tunnel.

Aleco: How do you see this affecting the future of coffee production in your community? What types of support do you think are needed to create a viable future?

Raquel: One of the challenges that I see is that we need to start implementing strategies to get our youth to stay in coffee production with us. Sometimes we sit down at the top of our land and we look out and think, who is going to look after this when I am gone? At FUDAM we’ve realized that one of the ways that our youth will stay in the countryside and continue to produce coffee is by making coffee production an activity that is highly profitable. How do I make it so that coffee production is highly profitable? 

By producing coffee that is differentiated, good coffee that meets the needs of the consumer. I told my producers they have to focus on this. If some day a roaster from the US tells you that they want you to send them coffee with square beans we’ll have to find a way to make them square. And that’s where communication is important: for buyers to communicate what they desire so that we can satisfy the needs of consumers and establish long-term relationships. 

I see coffee production as having a future, but we have to be more precise. We have to standardize the processes because there are producers who produce good coffee this year, and next year, nothing. We don’t have standardized processes—sometimes we don’t have records of our processes. There are very few producers who can tell you this is how many hours I fermented my coffee this year, this is how it turned out. The complication is that our producers are older and sometimes when the years catch up to you and your expectations are not as high, it’s the same to you to produce coffee well or not. That’s why we need our youth to be the coffee producers of the future and make sure that they learn from us, that the way we learned from our parents, our children and grandchildren learn from us. 

If you come to my house and I want to make you a good cup of coffee, I  will put everything into making that good cup of coffee. I put all my effort into my empanadas so that they turn out as well as possible but if I make coffee carelessly, how is it going to come out well? We, as coffee producers, need to put love, care, to put our hearts into it, and that will be reflected in the product. I am very metaphysical and I do believe that love, that hope that one puts into producing coffee remains immersed in that coffee and that’s the good flavor that we all taste.

Aleco: Gracias Raquel, drinking coffee at your house is the best, but we could never talk to you without talking about the empanadas. They’re the best empanadas in the whole world, I’ve never had better. Thank you, Raquel.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Marilu Lopez Padilla of Coopbam, Peru on Covid & Women Leadership

We were lucky to get a chance to bring Marilu Lopez Padilla, Coopbam smallholder producer and Women’s Committee leader, onto the Foxhole for a conversation about the challenges created by Covid-19, her role in Coopbam’s formation, and her leadership in the creation of Coopbam’s Women’s Committee.

Marilu is an exemplary member of Coopbam, a cooperative founded with help from environmental group Conservation International to help support and protect the forested coffee farms within the Alto Mayo Protected Reserve in Amazonas and San Martin, Peru. From its founding, the group’s core focus has always been how to marry coffee growing with the enrichment of both the land and the community, rather than stripping the environment of resources in order to farm it. Marilu speaks to how the cooperative structure and the role of women in communal economics serve that mission, as well as the challenges they face perennially and this year in particular. 

Ali Newcomb: Hi everyone, I’m Ali Newcomb, director of Red Fox Sourcing Company in Peru and Mexico. I’m here with Carina Barreda, who helps manage quality for Red Fox in Peru. Also joining us is our very special guest, Marilu Lopez Padilla from Coopbam in Amazonas, in the North of Peru. After a break, we restarted the Foxhole last month with the new concept of focusing directly on the people who produce the coffee that we all enjoy so much and letting them speak directly to the people who drink their coffee. Right now we are right in the middle of Peru season and so we wanted to invite someone from our supply chain in Peru. Marilu is a crucial member of Coopbam,  the group with whom we started our work in the North of Peru. Marilu, thank you so much for being here and sharing your time to tell us your experience. 

Marilu Lopez Padilla: Thank you Ali, I’ll introduce myself as well. My name is Marilu Lopez Padilla, I am from the committee of Beirut, in Amazonas. Thank you for having me here.

Ali: Marilu, Coopbam has a very different history than many other cooperatives in the sense that it is in a protected forest, and because of that, it has a key focus on protecting the local ecosystem. Could you tell me a little bit about the history of Coopbam and how it started?

Marilu: Before Coopbam, I didn’t have any stable customers for my coffee. We would sell to whomever would arrive ready to buy it. Sometimes it was for really low prices and sometimes for higher prices. Often, we had no choice but to sell to whomever would show up. 

One day, Edwar, the promoter for the Beirut committee, appeared when I was washing near the road and he said, I think you sell coffee. I said that I do, but just a little, and there aren’t any dried coffee beans at the moment. Then he told me that he knew a buyer looking for dried coffee to be able to sell and that I could take advantage of it. He hadn’t explained the buyers yet and I didn’t know what a cooperative was at that time, but thanks to Edwar I started to understand that they were planning to open a cooperative and were looking for coffee to start it. 

He explained the details and since then, we have been working with trust. Now I say it again, in front of Edwar (who’s holding the camera), I can’t distrust the cooperative because I am always sure that it is truly cooperative and they do it for all of us, and amongst all of us, so we are all united—that is why I trust the coop.

Back then, before we established that trust, Edwar came to take my coffee and as I waited for results and payment, I kept asking him when he would pay me. He took my coffee and days went by. Soon, they did pay me and the cooperative officially started the following year in 2017. By then, it was more known in the area and many wanted to become members and build committees. Our coffee had a guaranteed market from the cooperative, and we continued and continued and I always believed in my coffee, and I still believe in it. 

Carina Barreda: Marilu, from when you started working with Coopbam to today, how has your coffee production changed? How do you see your development?

Marilu: I am very happy with the development from the beginning to now. We learned things from the cooperative like managing planting, how and when to fertilize, to do everything on time and to be on top of the harvest so we can get a good product and to not to abandon the farm: the to-do’s of the farm.

Ali: In the Beirut subregion, what are your biggest producing challenges, especially for producing quality?

Marilu: When it comes to the harvest, we have to be really on top of it. Once it starts ripening we have to be there consistently. If not, when the winter comes, the coffee starts falling. In Beirut, parrots will come eat the coffee once it’s ripe—that is a big difficulty for us because we have to be ready to run over quickly and scare them away no matter what else we’re doing. It means we have to pay attention constantly.

 Ali: It seems like you do a great job managing the parrots and everything else. This year, the world is upside down and I think there have been more challenges than ever, no? I know Peru had one of the longest quarantines in the world and I know that in the rural areas, additional preventative measures were  taken. Can you tell us more about how things are there both on a daily basis and also the challenges that have arisen over the course of the season?

Marilu: We had many difficulties because of the pandemic. We are farmers, country people, and many say that in the countryside people live happily, and that is true in some ways, but not in others. Yes, we are less anxious because we are in the countryside. On the other hand, we have difficulties and we need help as well: sometimes for our children, other times for the house, and sometimes for other things like not being able to go out and shop for what we need. During the harvest, it was difficult because we needed to go out to other fields to help with labor there, but we were surrounded by policemen, rondas campesinas (groups of peasants that patrol to keep the countryside safe), and the army. 

To this day, we have the army nearby. From my house, you can see the army—they are always paying attention, they don’t allow people from outside to come in. 

And while that has created difficulty, maybe it has been because of that, and thanks to God, that we are all still safe and there haven’t been any cases of this illness in our area. We are still taking care of ourselves, respecting the protocols as the president mandates. He asks a lot of us, our people, and we don’t understand much about it. But we all take care of ourselves and we are in the front, fighting it as well as continuing our jobs at home and at the farm, for our own good, for our families’ health and ours.

Ali: Well, it makes me happy to know that you haven’t had any cases of the virus in Beirut but it sounds complicated as well; so you haven’t left Beirut? 

Marilu: No, we’ve stayed here. For example, we haven’t been able to attend a cooperative meeting since March. I’m a representative in the administrative council where we usually have many meetings, but none since March. Schools are now virtual here and my little girl is about to start her first year in elementary school. She is here studying virtually from home, and my son is also studying college virtually in Chachapoyas University. We are all here, all together with them.

Ali: How are you doing with the virtual school? Do you attend via TV? On the radio? How is it held?

Marilu: I am going to tell you this but it’s going to make you laugh—I don’t have a TV. The signal doesn’t reach here, so I don’t own a TV. The virtual classes that my little girl has to attend, I borrowed a radio so she could listen. I can also listen so I can help her with homework. The signal isn’t very clear but we make anything possible. We make it work.

Ali: So besides producing coffee, you have become a teacher.

Marilu: Yes, I work a bit as a teacher, a bit on my farm, a bit taking care of my house, doing all the chores and doing a little bit of everything.

Carina: What help or benefits have you received from the cooperative during these last few months, related to the pandemic? 

Marilu: They have brought us baskets with staple goods and supplies. Thank God we have been able to get something, I am very thankful. It has helped me tremendously.

Ali: Marilu, can you please tell me more about your work in the Women’s Committee at Coopbam?

 Marilu: We coordinate between the women of different regional committees to be able to expand and diversify our communal livelihood. Some members wanted to do other work like crafts and planting vegetable and fruit crops; it is so essential for the health to have fresh vegetables and we prioritize it when planting in our orchards. So that was our idea: different committees for different projects, for example, a committee for creating vegetable plots, another committee to make artisan crafts, and another committee to raise poultry, all of this to generate diversified sources of income. 

Because as women we always think, the most important thing is not to lack anything at home.  As a group we had plans to do many more projects through different committees this year, but as you know, this pandemic came and delayed a lot of that. I’m sure that as soon as this passes we are going to continue improving and conversing about many projects we will do. And the committees agree as women, to do it and fight to be able to go on.

 Carina: How did the idea come up about building this Women’s Committee? Who was the person who managed or who pushed for the development of this committee and what was the goal?

 Marilu: Well, the cooperative always talked about this, during our trainings. There are men who are married to coop members, but not all the men are members of the larger cooperative—sometimes the husbands aren’t the members, the wives are. In my case, I am by myself, but I am a member and I am also the president of the Women’s Committee, and I manage this role differently from being a cooperative member, but it is equal. 

That’s what gave us the idea, because we have women who are coop members but we wanted to broaden the group to include the non-member wives of the men who were coop members. We all wanted to do something for our lives and our finances, we are always in need of things and that was our agreement: the women who want to work united to do jobs cooperatively and get better at them. For example in 2018, our women’s group grew and sold over 200,000 seedlings.

A lot of us in the community are happy that we are producing all that we are, as committee members. Like those seedlings: in order to grow a seedling, it doesn’t happen from one day to another. You have to be on top of it: fighting, working, group by group every day, just like that. That was our idea, so we could improve our livelihood. That is why we formed groups in Beirut, Vilcaniza, Yambrasbamba, by Aguas Verdes, and other places.

 Ali: What is your favorite part of being a coffee producer?

 Marilu: What makes me happy is having you as a set market of clients to buy our coffee. We have our buyers and believe in them, and you also put their trust in our product that goes to you. We always try to improve our product and see the best way to have it delivered to you with quality.

Ali: Would you like your daughter Ani to be a coffee producer when she grows up?

 Marilu: I would love that. My daughter has learned about coffee since she was small, she has a bright mind. She likes to harvest the ripe fruits; she knows what to pick and what to discard. You won’t believe me but she already bites into the dried coffee to assess the moisture.  When she bites into the dry bean, she says it’s already hard, or it’s already dry. I know with time she will learn more and that she will like it.  

Carina: What other objectives would you like to achieve in the near or far future either in terms of coffee production or other personal goals?

 Marilu: My goal is, that with the help of God, with the production that we perform here, I want my son to keep studying and finish with the profession he is pursuing, for my son and my daughter to keep studying always. Right now it’s very worrisome with the whole pandemic but we are fighting it as best we can with virtual schooling.  

Ali: Thank you so much Marilu. Do you have any questions or comments for us?

 Marilu: Just to thank you and thank God for giving us this day to be here with you and you with us. Let it be the first time we do this but not the last. The only thing I would ask you is, once the pandemic is over hopefully you can come visit us again.

 Ali: Oh yes, I am looking forward to it and Carina as well.

 Carina: Yes, absolutely. 

 Marilu: Thank you!

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

Asorcafe’s Geovanny Liscano On Covid, Why Specialty is The Future, & 2020

After over 12 years working with Asorcafe leader Geovanny Liscano to source amazing coffee from Inzá, Colombia, we wanted to open the floor for Geovanny to speak directly to the specialty coffee market. Some background on Geovanny: he’s been a stalwart partner to us since 2006, back when he farmed just one hectare of land with his wife and father. The coffee was superb and over time Geovanny reinvested profits back into the land, bought surrounding plots, and built up processing infrastructure into a thing of beauty for the whole community. He is the model producer to look at when talking about reinvestment and potential at the farm level. His group Asorcafe is incredibly well-organized with a laser-focus on ethics and he’s a valued leader in the greater Inzá community. He’s now in his second run as Asorcafe President after being the association’s third President from 2007-2008. To read more about the smallholder communities of Asorcafe, click here.  

What follows is an interview with Geovanny, first aired via the Foxhole on August 14th, 2020, edited for length and clarity, and translated from Spanish to English by Red Fox’s Ali Newcomb. Geovanny has a lot to say to the specialty market, and we’re happy to help him build the space for producers to talk directly to consumers.  

Aleco Chigounis: Geovanny, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your family? How did you get your start producing coffee in Inzá?

Geovanny Liscano: For me, coffee is all we have; it’s a product that is special to our area. In my family, we’ve produced coffee ever since we were children. Now, we’re proud because we had the vision of forming Asorcafe, the business we have today. Thanks to that producer association we met you, Aleco, who we and the producers are grateful to be working with today. In this moment there are difficulties, but we also know that good things come out of difficult times where we have to learn, to get inventive, and I think from there we will find strategies to come out ahead.

Aleco: Can you tell us a bit about your personal story as a producer, or about your parents and how they started to produce coffee?

Geovanny: Since we were very young, coffee production has always been a part of our lives, but despite that, I didn’t know nearly as much about coffee until we founded the association and started working with you and getting into specialty production. It’s brought a huge change to my family. I’m really grateful to have gotten into specialty coffee; I like it. In the case of my family, we feel good about working in coffee. We feel happy going to the farm, from planting a tree, to harvesting, the whole process. 

I owe everything to coffee and to the program we have with you because today, the price the local green coffee market and other C-based buyers are paying for coffee right now is booming—but Aleco, you know there are times when the prices dropped to 600,000 pesos, 700,000 pesos, and at that price we barely cover our costs. Profits from producing specialty coffee come from knowing you’re going to receive premiums. Thank God we as a family started saving those premiums and investing them into building solar dryers, buying a good depulper, building a good wet mill set-up to make the processing easier. 

Each day we have more love for coffee farming, those of us who depend on that crop. We do the work as a team, as a family. All of that makes us special. There’s a saying, “it isn’t the coffee that’s special, it’s the producer.” I think that’s right, you can have a very good variety, but if you don’t cultivate it well, you’ll never produce a good coffee.

Aleco: It’s always been a pleasure to work with you and your community. Was it your father or your grandfather who initially planted your farm so many years ago?

Geovanny: My father. My grandfathers also, but in the case of my farm specifically it was my father.

Aleco: Can you tell us the history of Asorcafe, how you started it and how you got to where you are today?

Geovanny: Before Asorcafe, we would see traders who paid unfair prices. They would come, meet up, and agree on the prices they would pay at the market. There were some producer leaders who thought about that and said, you go to town to sell your coffee and everyone is buying at the same cheap price. It wasn’t fair, and we could all see that. It led to us thinking about an organization, and we started socializing the idea with Yovany Castillo, who ended up being the founder, and with the other leaders there we started to organize and spread our ideas in all of the communities in the municipality. 

Before, you would put in the effort to produce good coffee, and take it, beautifully selected and when you got to the trader, they paid low prices and mixed it all up with low grade coffee, and that wasn’t ok. With Asorcafe we started to separate the lots, the coffee from the producers who took a lot of care in their production would be separated out. At first, we worked with Virmax Colombia. Once I got into specialty coffee, I liked it, and I see our future there.  

After forming Asorcafe, we learned to prioritize caring for the environment in our work. Before the association, we had learned that monocropping was the way to farm, planting coffee only. At Asorcafe we didn’t agree with that policy, and we started reforesting, planting trees, and switching to integrated crop farming where the farm has everything you need. Thankfully, it has been a model that many in the association have integrated. 

I’ve always told the people here at Asorcafe that Aleco’s program is open, that all of us could sell our coffee there and all of us could benefit from the premiums that we receive from Red Fox. Not all the producers in our community are quality-focused, there are some that don’t do the work that they should, but more than 50% of the members are committed. We set prices according to the coffee quality and those are the prices Aleco pays, and we at Asorcafe calculate the payment, deducting the expenses of the association—but we deduct very little, because Asorcafe always takes into account that the producer is the one who does the most work and puts in the most effort, so the largest amount possible goes to the producer. 

Right now, it’s difficult because of the high prices, the boom. At Asorcafe we have to make an investment to be able to get that coffee because the local price right now is almost as high as what we can pay, but when these booms happen—we’ve seen it before, and right now we’re seeing prices that we haven’t seen in many years—we know from experience that when we least expect it those prices will drop and we at Asorcafe still continue paying high prices. 

There are challenges, the pandemic has been very difficult, but we’re looking at strategies every day to come out ahead with the project of producing coffee.

Aleco: How is the quality of the harvest this year? I know that you are cupping a lot in Pedregal and that the producers are well versed in how to produce good coffee. 

Geovanny: Those of us that produce specialty are doing well. We’re doing things carefully, fertilizing well so that the harvest isn’t harmed, and I think there is good quality. 

Also, right now something very positive that we have as an organization is the cupping. Rivier does a really good job in the lab. We are very aware that he understands what he is doing and it gives us confidence in the organization. 

So yes, I think the end of year harvest will be good, hopefully the prices stabilize because they have been crazy. One day it’s one price, the next it’s another, and it’s been hard. 

Aleco: The prices are going up and down a lot?

Geovanny: More than anything going up, these days. It has been really complicated. The regional prices more than anything.

Aleco: Could you tell us a bit more about how the pandemic has affected you there in Inzá with the people, the logistics, the harvest, all of that—how has it been?

Geovanny: In our case here in Inzá, we’re in the countryside and thankfully we’ve been privileged because it has been uniting for family and community. 

From the perspective of being on the farm, it’s been good, because we’ve been able to work on lots of things that we were behind on. There was more time for each of us to work on our farms and so it hasn’t been so bad. 

On the business front, it has affected us. For Asorcafe economically it has been really difficult because here we have business locations and warehouses that we had to close for days in La Plata. Here in Inzá, we have also closed certain locations because it was impossible for suppliers and clients when people aren’t allowed out into town, everyone has to be in their house. That part has been complicated for us because you’re not allowed out. On the other hand, thankfully it has helped in terms of being able to spend more time with the family and working at home. 

Here in the municipality, just a week ago we had our first positive case. We’re now, once again, confined to our farm, our house, our community. So on the one hand, Aleco, we’ve been doing well, and on the other hand so so.

Aleco: Geovanny, it’s always a treat to talk to you. I think COVID has presented a lot of challenges but one of the advantages is I think all of us are learning to connect virtually.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Covid At The Farm Level: Inzá & Nariño, Colombia

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are unpredictable from country to country, and even more so between the smallholder producer communities we work with across the globe. We were lucky to get some time to talk with the leaders of the two primary producer associations we work with in Colombia—Raquel Lasso of FUDAM in Nariño and Geovanny Liscano of Asorcafe in Inzá, both of whom are smallholder producers leading smallholder communities—about some of the effects they’re seeing in their communities so far. Perhaps surprisingly, not all of the changes this year has brought have been negative, but there are significant challenges and opportunities both currently operative and that lie ahead.   

Background: Covid-19 in Colombia 

Colombia’s Covid-19 response and healthcare infrastructure issues offer many parallels with the US’s, and in the country at large, the disease is not and has not been well controlled by government measures. 

Over the course of the pandemic, Colombia’s medical system has strained under the weight of hospitalizations. In mid-August, the country saw a massive increase in coronavirus infections, fueled by low levels of testing, inconsistent lockdowns from place to place, and hardly any contact tracing. Colombia registered the highest per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world, over Brazil and the US who came in second and third, respectively. During the first week of August, 2,139 Colombians died from Covid-19 (according to official numbers). Per capita testing levels as of August 12 were 40,000 per million, a low figure even compared to the 210,000 tests per million carried out in the United States. 

Mid-July figures showed the nation’s health care system either at capacity or in a state of collapse, with ICU occupancy rates in the high 80 and 90 percentage range in much of the country. Since then, total infections have continued to skyrocket. Lockdown measures continue to be inadequate and inconsistent, as does the government assistance that would allow workers to stay home without having to worry about meeting their needs.

 

After diagnosing its first Covid-19 case in Bogotá on March 6 and watching case counts increase in major cities, Colombian authorities declared a health emergency, first suspending public events, then restricting entry from select countries, then shutting down borders beginning with the Venezuela border, where the government feared a refugee crisis was boosting case counts. Case counts continued to rise in the following days and President Iván Duque and the Ministries of Health and Education announced suspension of classes for all public and private schools and universities in the country. 

By March 16, Colombia closed all land and sea borders in conjunction with the governments of Ecuador and Peru, and several departments issued curfews to avoid viral spread. On March 17 as more new cases were diagnosed, President Duque declared a State of Emergency, announcing specific isolation and economic measures to slow the spread of the virus. On the evening of March 20, he declared a 19-day nationwide quarantine, starting on March 24 and ending on April 12. Since then, Colombia’s national lockdown has been extended in some form or other eight times, through September 1, and the country has reported more than 267,300 official coronavirus cases and 9,074 deaths (which, considering ongoing struggles for adequate testing, is likely an undercount). Similarly to the US, leaders of departments, municipalities, and even specific neighborhoods have been able to tailor their own response to be more or less strict based on case counts, and many have reopened to various degrees. 

Remote Rural Communities Afford Some Protections

We’ve always prioritized partnership with remote groups who don’t necessarily have the same market access as their more centrally-located peers, and in the case of the rural smallholders we work with in Nariño and Inzá, that remoteness has been something of a safeguard against viral transmission and offered some protection against Covid-19. 

From the beginning, coffee production, milling, and exporting were deemed essential business and exempted from any lockdown orders. Initially, our milling and export partners were working at 50% capacity due to curfews forcing them to go home earlier in the evening than normal. When we talked to our supply chain partners in early April, transportation complications were reaching critical mass as availability decreased despite increased rates. Conditions deteriorated for drivers as there were no longer stops to eat and to rest. Ports were generally open for business though some had limited hours for loading and unloading. While we expected a lack of pickers would have had significant impacts on medium to large farms, the rural smallholders we work with did not feel those same impacts since the work they do involves family- and community-based support rather than migrant labor. 

In terms of distancing, Inzá-based Asorcafe already had collection centers in San José, San Antonio, Pedregal and Inzá, which helped everyone keep their distance through the harvest. In Nariño, Lasso’s biggest concern in early April was retaining membership outside of La Unión where there were already instances of infection. FUDAM eventually implemented parchment collection sites in each village to keep greater distance between communities, and sometimes even collected at individual residences where members were elderly or at higher risk.

Effects on Community Health

The Covid-19 pandemic has been both a physical and mental health crisis for the public, but in small rural communities that have been hit more with isolation and worry than the disease itself, the changes haven’t been entirely negative. 

“In our case here in Inzá, we’re in the countryside and thankfully we’ve been privileged because it has been uniting for family and community,” says Liscano of Asorcafe. The municipality recently had its first positive case, so restrictions have tightened once again. “We’re now, once again, confined to our farm, our house, our community,” he says. “So on the one hand, we’ve been doing well, and on the other hand so so.” 

Lasso has seen similar upsides. “For us as farmers, as residents of the countryside, the truth is the pandemic has provided an opportunity for us to spend more time on our farms and be in closer contact with our plants, to be in closer contact with our surroundings,” she says. “We have been blessed, blessed because to be confined to a house in the countryside where there is coffee, where there are animals, where there is a vegetable plot, where there are things that aren’t confinement, that’s pleasure.” 

For Lasso, it’s also been a cause for introspection. “This pandemic has been a moment to look within ourselves and say what have I done and what do I still have left to do?” she tells us. “This pandemic taught me that when the time comes of being faced with the end it makes you think, what am I taking away from this, and what I take away is what I did for the rest, and what I leave is the memory people have of me, so one way of not dying is to stay in the hearts of those you leave behind, to do something to remain in the hearts of everyone else.”

She also adds that the community health ramifications of Covid-19 have so far been less severe because the farms of FUDAM are diversified rather than monocropped, a priority of FUDAM’s. “We have bananas, yucca, sugar cane, there isn’t a lack of fruit or vegetables, so it was easier to feed the family. To date none of our members have had any health problems related to COVID, but it has been an effort for everyone to try to come out ahead and try to overcome this.” 

But, she says, “It makes me nervous that the next time we have a meeting we have to ask which of our members are missing. That would be very painful.” 

Effects on Business and Finance

While there have been some positives on the mental health side of things and a lot of luck and care in avoiding community transmission thus far, the business and financial side of things has been less positive. 

While neither Asorcafe or FUDAM have had to deal with the labor shortages larger farms are likely seeing, one issue they’ve encountered is volatile and exceptionally high pricing. While, as Lasso says, this is a great thing in general for producers, it poses specific problems for small groups like Asorcafe and FUDAM, especially in uncertain times. While both of these groups pay prices well above the local market (we shared our pricing for 2019 in Paying for Coffees: Inzá and Nariño), the difficulty is in having the same amount of money to pay those higher prices upfront. So, while the local markets are still paying less than what Asorcafe or FUDAM would pay, they’re paying way more than usual and paying it on the spot. 

“Right now, it’s difficult because of the high prices, the boom,” says Liscano. “At Asorcafe we have to make an investment to be able to get that coffee because the local price right now is almost as high as what we can pay, but when these booms happen—we’ve seen it before, and right now we’re seeing prices that we haven’t seen in many years—we know from experience that when we least expect it those prices will drop and we at Asorcafe still continue paying high prices.” 

“For the producer it’s excellent,” says Lasso. “The producer wants to seize the moment and sell their coffee at a higher price. But it has made things difficult for us. For us as organizations collecting coffee, it’s difficult because of the lack of working capital. Higher priced coffees mean a lot of upfront investment for us. But for the producers it’s great.” She also notes that many producers in her area had replanted last year due to low prices and so this year, yields were low. “Hopefully next year there is more production, and hopefully the prices stay high,” she says. 

The volatility of coffee prices is a huge challenge under any circumstances, and while higher prices are definitely a silver lining, they still present challenges for small associations who do the work of paying consistent high prices but lack working capital to pay those higher prices upfront.

The pandemic has also created logistical difficulty for these small, remote groups. “From an economic perspective the pandemic has hit us hard,” says Lasso. The complexity of collecting parchment from neighborhoods and at-risk individuals increases cost and complexity for FUDAM. “We protect each other, and if you think that by not coming here your odds are better, we’ll go to you. It increases our costs and complexity, but we’ve done it and our producers are more relaxed.” 

Asorcafe has felt similar effects. “For Asorcafe economically, it has been really difficult because we have business locations and warehouses that we had to close for days in La Plata. Here in Inzá, we have also closed certain locations because it was impossible for suppliers and clients when people aren’t allowed out into town, everyone has to be in their house. On the other hand, thankfully it has helped in terms of being able to spend more time with the family and working at home.” 

Liscano also notes a silver lining in being able to catch up on farm work. “We’ve been able to work on lots of things that we were behind on. There was more time for each of us to work on our farms and so it hasn’t been so bad,” he says.  

Rural Smallholders Know How To Face Uncertainty 

While Colombia’s national Covid-19 response hasn’t set coffee producers up for success, smallholder producers are no strangers to challenges, uncertainty, and risk. These communities have done everything in their power to put community health front and center and are continuing to produce beautiful coffee at prices that allow them to continue to invest in the community and the family.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Update: Valle Inca Covid-19 Donation Program

 

Through the Peru donation campaign we ran for the month of May, we were able to raise enough funds to help Valle Inca leader Prudencio distribute baskets with staple goods including rice, sugar, and cooking oil, as well as basic cleaning supplies like alcohol and soap, to all 127 Valle Inca member families.

The total dollar amount we raised seems tiny at $1,140, which works out to about $9 per member family. This is a great illustration of how a little can go a long way in a time of crisis. We’re grateful to be able to support Valle Inca in any way through this period and look forward to continuing to maximize our purchasing power however we can. 

Almost universally, producers we work with say the best way to support them is to continue to buy their coffee at Red Fox prices. As much as we can, the crucial work during this time is to maintain a similar level of commitment to these groups as in past years. If you’re ever interested in finding ways to help, get in touch. To learn more about Valle Inca, click here

 

Interested in sourcing coffee with us? Reach out at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.  

First Chance To Try Finca Santa Cruz

 

Of all our new relationships in Chiapas this year, Finca Santa Cruz is one of the most exciting. Run by the innovative Pepe Arguello, the farm is already achieving widespread notoriety in just its third year running. Last year, Pepe won COE Mexico. He was willing to sell in the auction market but wanted to build something deeper, especially with the rest of his product (just as excellent, but at a more accessible quality tier), mostly made up of Bourbon, Typica, Yellow Caturra, and some Geisha. Pepe’s lots’ flavor profiles include ripe purple fruit like black currant, raisin, date, and plum, a saturated amber honey sweetness, and a complex acidity, both tartaric and malic, layered throughout. 

Pepe’s father was a well-known producer in Chiapas, and when Pepe purchased Finca Santa Cruz, he decided to build the business around specialty. With land at 1700 masl on the Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, his farming practices reflect his desire for a more precise, agronomically advanced, and conservation-focused approach: he harvests cherry according to Brix (measuring the sugar content of the fruit), ferments according to pH (the actual acidity of the fermentation), and generally seeks experimentation, growth, and collaboration. The area is biodiverse, filled with native Inga trees that also provide shade, allowing the coffee to grow in harmony with the surrounding reserve rather than in conflict with it. Pepe’s goal is to slowly increase production as well as quality and gain wider international recognition. 

While Pepe is still a small-scale farmer at 60 hectares, we’re excited to have a slightly larger lot to offer from him than what we’re usually able to get at the producer ID level (for instance, all the farmers we work with in Oaxaca are extreme smallholders averaging just 1-2 hectares). We’re able to provide a deeper commitment than what Pepe would find at the auction level and find good homes for the whole range of coffee he produces.  

Community-wise, the local workforce is integral to Finca Santa Cruz’s success in meeting demand. After the community helps harvest cherry, Pepe first floats the cherry in water, then ferments for 20-72 hours in concrete tanks depending on outside factors like weather and ambient temperature, using pH as his guide. He then dries washed parchment on raised beds with mesh covering for 17-25 days. He uses a hydrometer to measure the level of moisture in the coffee during drying. We’re excited to work together to help him customize processing for different clients and continue to invest in and improve quality. 

His practices also help inform and grow education in the surrounding farmer population. He carries on the legacy of his father and his community while advancing with the technologies of the present, producing a truly stellar product. 

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Ernesto Perez & Coatepec Community Do Things Differently

 

One thing we love about growing our work in Mexico is how different the subregions are, whole origins unto themselves. We’re excited to bring some new offerings from Veracruz, an origin unique in several ways. First, a major distinction from much of Latin America: instead of buying and selling parchment, Veracruz producers buy and sell cherry, processing centrally at mills. Ernesto Perez’s Finca Fatima is both a farm and a mill, and all three of the Veracruz lots we bought this year were processed there, including of course Ernesto’s own.

 

Producing in tiny subregion Coatepec, Ernesto’s coffee, and that of his community, is special. Coatepec has some of the highest latitude coffee on the globe: just like high elevations yield slow cherry maturation due to cooler weather, Coatepec pushes the northern edge of the tropics, where cooler, slightly wetter weather and long, cool nights during the harvest slow down cherry ripening, creating an incredible density of flavor. Combined with varieties like Typica, Garnica, Marsellesa, and Caturra and meticulous processing, these coffees have notes of Meyer lemon, apricot, lush red berry, cherry, and lemongrass. 

 

A younger farmer taking over the family farm and mill, Ernesto wants to help move his community production into high quality specialty, tweak processing, focus on microlots, and help those around him make a little more money on their work. Ernesto’s coffee placed super high in 2018 and 2019 COE and was used by the 2019 Mexico barista champion. This year, he decided to expand his own wet mill into APG Coffee, a micro wet mill that other smaller farmers in Coatepec could use. APG also offers agronomic consulting for other farmers to help rebuild soils, increase quality, and overall help the community of Coatepec do their best work and make as much money as possible. This year, Ernesto’s coffee brings malic tartness of green apple, sweet spice, and rich honey. 

 

The other producers we’re featuring from Coatepec are Enrique Toss and Jose Cienfuegos. Enrique’s coffees have a super saturated dry fruit sweetness like raisin and date as well as substantial sugar browning like chocolate, candied pecan, and heavy caramel. Jose’s bring bright, juicy complexity like raspberry jam, dried strawberry, lime zest, and amber honey.

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

Red Fox Origin & Shipping Update: April 2020

Hi friends,

We want to give you an update on how our supply chains are looking and make sure you feel safe and looped in as things develop. We’re seeing a lot of speculation and fear out there, but our supply chains are unique and we want you to feel confident about buying coffee from Red Fox. Below is a rundown of our current shipment, harvest, and spot positions. If you have any questions or want to have a conversation about forecasting or managing your position over this volatile period, we are here to help. 

To preface, we don’t want to give you a superficial update: we want to share everything we know and make sure that you feel empowered to make decisions and communicate openly with us as we will continue to do with you. Once again, we are always, always here—please get in touch, even if you just want to check in.

Supply, Demand, & The ‘C’ Market 

Red Fox has always been able to operate outside of the scope of the C market, which is an antiquated measure of a coffee’s real value. Anything short of a massive rally would allow us to maintain continuity in our approach. 

That said, we need to be prepared for every possible outcome. We’ve seen a steady climb in the ‘C’ over the past month+ settling in just over $1.20 as trading against May comes to a close next week. The current global economic climate doesn’t necessarily lend itself to confidence on either side of the coin. The slowdown could grind demand to a halt and bring the market back down below $1. Any potential port closures, or container shortages which are a larger concern at the moment, could cause the market to rally and potentially to levels we haven’t seen in over a decade due to an eventual lack of supply.  

The indication we’ve received from our partners in Peru, Colombia and Rwanda is positive so far; the origins with their harvests on deck. They will be able to pick and process coffee business-as-usual as of now. Will Brasil be able to do the same? Will the medium to large producers in Colombia? Labor is very much an issue for the imminent harvests. We’ll keep you all apprised of the situation in the months to come.

Mexico

Update from origin: 

The Mexican government considers coffee to be a priority product, so dry mills are allowed to continue operations during the shutdown. Both of the dry mills we work with are taking all of the necessary precautions to stay safe. One of the mills we work with is operating with fewer workers. Shipping lines are accepting bookings and we expect to have the first containers afloat by the end of April and available in the US the second or third week of May. 

However, we are now getting word that several indigenous communities outside of the Oaxaca City capital, particularly in the Mixteca region, are proactively closing roads in order to prevent the spread of the virus and requiring anyone to apply for a special permission ahead of time to be on the road. This will affect a small percentage of coffee that is still stored in producers’ houses and hasn’t been brought down to the central warehouses and dry mills. We hope to see that opened up by the end of the month to be able to mill and ship the 50-75 bags we had planned to purchase from these communities that weren’t delivered yet.

Available lots:

We have a couple lots from the 2019 harvest in inventory for anyone that is looking for either a conventional or fully certified blend component. These lots are holding up well and priced to move.

Ethiopia 

Update from origin: 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been cautious with his mandates. As 80+% of the population relies on agriculture, and daily wages from it, a complete shutdown remains an impossibility. Roads to the countryside are closed to all other than trucks related directly to business. Government offices and public transport are closed officially. Large gatherings are forbidden.  Addis Ababa itself is essentially locked down.  

ECX remains open as of last week and has implemented a rotating system of buyers to maintain safe distances between people. This, coupled with the new minimum price floors instituted a couple of months ago, is causing purchases delays and the general movement of coffee between warehouses.  

Dry mills are operating at a slow clip. Shipments to Djibouti are also moving at a slower clip due to the port’s pace. 

Our dry mill and export partners are maintaining the safest, cleanest environments they at the moment, hence the slow down within.  

Available lots:

We have multiple containers of top Agaro coffees at both The Annex CA and Continental Terminals NJ SPOT now. Our final Guji, Yirgacheffe, and Sidamo shipments are somewhere between just afloat, Djibouti, and the PSS approval stage. Expect arrivals from early May through June.

Kenya

Update from origin: 

A nationwide mandated curfew is in effect from 7pm to 5am daily. The Kenyan government has effectively stopped all movement in and out of Nairobi with the exception of cargo. Coffee is still moving to Port of Mombasa which maintains a normal schedule with shipping lines. Food grade containers continue to be scarce but still obtainable.  

Available lots: 

Our Kenyan shipments have gone afloat as of two weeks ago and are due into port early May.  Our unallocated offerings will be limited. For all those that committed to forward contracts, we have you covered and samples will be available in the next couple weeks. These lots are stunning and we’re thankful to all those who committed and made it possible for us to make a return to Kenya. Anyone who is interested, get in touch ASAP.

Guatemala

Update from origin: 

Guatemala continues to be in lockdown with no civilian travel allowed between departments and curfew extended to April 20th. There are heavy fines for anyone caught without a mask. All international and domestic flights are suspended until April 30th. 

What this means is that there is a real migrant labor shortage. Certain regions like Huehuetenango, which was at peak harvest when COVID hit, are seeing as much as 20-30+% of the crop rotting on the trees for lack of pickers. Mills are running at much smaller capacity due to labor shortages as well. Though coffee is deemed an essential product and therefore allowed transit, individual communities are putting up roadblocks and not allowing any traffic through. This has slowed everything down.

Back in Guatemala City, the dry mills are operating at near normal capacity. Although there have been some minor lags with having enough shipping containers available, the coffees are mostly moving quickly once they’re milled. 

All that said, despite some pretty big obstacles this harvest, we expect to see Guatemala arriving in late May.

Available lots:

If you haven’t already, now’s the time to forward book.   

Colombia

Update from origin: 

The Colombian government has extended their strict stay-at-home mandate through April 27th as of the end of March. Coffee production, milling and exporting have been deemed essential business and exempted from the order.  

Our milling and export partners are working at a reduced 50% capacity due to curfews forcing them to go home earlier in the evening than normal.  

Transportation complications are reaching critical mass as availability decreases despite increased rates. Conditions are deteriorating for drivers as there are no longer stops to eat and to rest.  

Ports are generally open for business as usual though some have limited hours for loading and unloading to morning time.

A lack of pickers will have significant impact on the medium to large farms.  

Click here to read specific updates from groups we work with. 

Available lots:

We have a diverse array of Colombia spot coffee in Continental, the Annex, and DuPuy Houston from some of our longest-standing relationships in Inza and Narino. Lots range from Producer IDs perfect for single origin menu spots to nuanced yet approachable blend-ready lots that go through the same rigorous QC process. They’re at their peak now and will hold their own for months to come—they’re a great option no matter where you’re located or what menu spots you need to fill. 

Peru

Update from origin: 

The Peruvian government declared a National Emergency beginning March 15th, 2020 with measures including a nationwide quarantine and the closure of regional and international borders. These measures are currently scheduled to continue through April 26th, though the ports and shipping lines are not affected and have been operating continuously. Initially, the only agricultural activities permitted were those related to the provision of food, but, as of April 3rd,  the government exempted all agricultural activities—including the the harvest, transport, collection and processing of coffee—from quarantine restrictions, so long as each individual obtains a certificate from their local/community authorities accrediting that they in fact work in agriculture. 

In practice most everyone in the coffee sector, including producers, day laborers, those working for cooperatives and associations, local warehouses, and dry mill operators, has been abiding by the quarantine restrictions, even though they are exempt. In some cases this is because of their own interest in preventing the spread of the virus. Another factor is the “rondas campesinas,” local peasant patrol groups that began in the late 1970s in northern Peru to protect rural communities against theft and that continue to operate autonomously in many communities across the country. The rondas (in the areas where they operate), and other rural self defense committees across Peru with similar enforcement rights, are closing local roads and prohibiting non-residents from entering to keep the virus from spreading to their communities—most of which do not have access to medical services. 

What does this mean for the Red Fox Supply Chain?

While the harvest season has begun on lower altitude farms in the north of Peru and the Selva Central, the producers we purchase coffee from are still at least a month away from the harvest. 60% of Red Fox suppliers are in Southern Peru, where the harvest begins in June at the lower altitudes, and goes through October on the highest altitude farms. Even in the North, where the harvest came early this year, the majority of the farms we are sourcing from are located at over 1600 meters above sea level and the harvest is not expected to begin until the second half of May. 

There is some concern in Peru about labor for this harvest season. Many producers rely on migrant workers to help with the harvest, and most people suspect that the regional borders will be closed well past the end of the quarantine period. We do not expect our suppliers to be particularly affected by this. Red Fox does purchase coffee from some producers who hire migrant workers, but the vast majority are smallholders whose farms are family operated. In the South of Peru, the concept of “Ayni” is common. This Andean work system practiced by Quechua and Aymara cultures is founded on the principle of reciprocity, and community members take turns helping each other to harvest and perform other farming activities rather than hiring outside help.

March and April are usually the months when our suppliers renew their Fair Trade and Organic certifications, and all of the certifiers have suspended their audits for recertification. The producer organizations we work with have been in communication with their respective certifiers to reschedule their inspections and/or renew their certifications virtually, and anticipate they will have their certifications in place by the time we begin shipping coffee in September. 

We are in regular communication with all of our core suppliers in Peru, and they share the same concerns and feelings of uncertainty that many of us do. They worry about demand, prices, financing, and contracts. We are reiterating our commitment to work together, to purchase as much coffee as we can this coming season, and to continue to pay the highest prices possible for their coffees. 

While our operations in Peru have not very been affected by this pandemic thus far, our sourcing team and our suppliers will no doubt need to be agile and creative as we navigate this coming season. 

Click here to read specific updates from groups we work with.

Available lots:

We only have a handful of lots left in NJ, but these are some of the nicest Producer ID lots we saw all harvest, many of which are from the Valle Inca group in Calca. We have some stunning lots available left in the Annex and are offering a flat palletized rate country-wide out of that warehouse to support widening your selection process. We have lots available from Cajamarca to Puno and all our major producing partner groups: Coopbam, Santuario, Valle Inca, Aromas del Valle, Pangoa, Cecovasa, Huadquina, and more.  Please get in touch if you would like support in narrowing our selection and making recommendations.

Rwanda

Update from origin: 

The government in Rwanda instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 21st, one of the earliest in East Africa. International borders are closed, except to goods and cargo, and internal travel is not permitted. Only essential shops and markets are allowed to operate. Coffee is considered an essential commodity, and washing stations and dry mills are operational with strict social distancing and sanitation measures in place. The peak of the harvest is approaching and cherry picking continues, albeit at a slower pace. Farmers have delivered less than 15% of their cherry to date meaning May will be the peak of harvest. We hope to see the first samples from Kanzu in early June. 

Available lots:

With only a bag or two uncommitted, reach out to your rep if you have interest. We may be able to work some magic, especially if you’re open to pulling from the Annex.

Ecuador

Update from origin: 

The Ecuadorian government has put in place a strict nationwide quarantine. There is no financial help at this time, except for small loans. Agricultural production has been deemed essential businesses, but cargo loads have limited movement around the country. The borders have been closed, with only the exception being cargo trucks. 

This year’s harvest hasn’t begun yet, although it is expected to begin a little earlier this year. Harvest in the Pichincha area is estimated to start in May and peak in early July, about three weeks earlier than last year. It is difficult to predict the available labor once harvest begins, but with so many left unemployed from the crisis, local leader Arnaud Causse believes there won’t be a shortage of labor. He is reporting that farms are looking good and that projects on the land are continuing as planned. 

Available lots: 

We have just a few lots and a few bags left to offer from this season’s harvest but still have some nice offerings from core producers Hernan Zuniga, Arnaud Causse, and Gilda Carrascal. 

To get in touch, email us at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com. We are always here and happy to help and support you in any way we can.