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by Miles Small

NAMA in Costa Rica">NAMA in Costa Rica

Categories: 2013, AprilTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

We have been to Costa Rica so often that it is almost a sec­ond home to CoffeeTalk. I cer­tainly would not say that we are jaded by the place, there is always some­thing new wait­ing to trans­port your mind or spirit into this amaz­ing trop­i­cal paradise.

When we had the oppor­tu­nity to lead a group of 56 indus­try lead­ers and their fam­i­lies to Costa Rica for an inten­sive intro­duc­tion to spe­cialty cof­fee, we were con­fi­dent that we could pull it off. Little did we know that as we led this group we would also be transformed.

The group was the board of NAMA (The National Automated Merchandising Association) and their fam­i­lies as well as NAMA mem­bers and OCS oper­a­tors. Most of the par­tic­i­pants on the trip had never been to a cof­fee grow­ing coun­try and some knew noth­ing at all about cof­fee. (They focus on the Vending side of the busi­ness.) Those of us who have been to a coun­try of ori­gin remem­ber that first time we dis­cov­ered cof­fee. For many of us it was a life-changing event! Now con­sider what it would be like to have 56 highly intel­li­gent, enthu­si­as­tic, cor­po­rate lead­ers from some of the largest food and bev­er­age com­pa­nies in North America on the bus. Truly amaz­ing and in the end a rich and empow­er­ing expe­ri­ence for Kerri and I as we saw cof­fee for the first time once again through their eyes and ques­tions and excitement.

For our part of the itin­er­ary, we knew that less would be more. So rather than vis­it­ing sev­eral farms, we decided to visit one farm and deeply immerse our­selves in the farm­ing oper­a­tion as well as the pro­cess­ing and busi­ness side. We chose the beau­ti­ful sin­gle estate farm oper­ated and family-owned by Luz Marina Trujillo Stewart – the Finca Santa Elena in Tarrazu. Beautifully sit­u­ated above 1500 meters with 750 ares in cof­fee cul­ti­va­tion, Santa Elena is one of the old­est estate farms still oper­at­ing in Costa Rica. Purchased by Luz Marina’s father and Uncle, who also owned farms in Colombia, Luzma took over the oper­a­tion while in her twen­ties and has been solely respon­si­ble for the farm man­age­ment and oper­a­tion of Santa Elena for longer than I should say.

This farm also includes a large ben­efi­cio pri­mar­ily for pro­cess­ing the farms cof­fees as well as a dry mill. Santa Elena is ver­ti­cally inte­grated so that the cher­ries grown on the farm are processed on the farm; dried and rested on the farm; and ulti­mately bagged and con­tainer­ized at the farm’s load­ing dock. When the lock­ing seal is applied to the full con­tainer the buyer knows that the entire con­tainer only holds Santa Elena’s prized spe­cialty estate coffee.

Because of the com­plex and var­ied oper­a­tions of the farm and ben­efi­cio, this was the per­fect place to bring a bus of 56 folks and pro­vide a detailed cof­fee farm expe­ri­ence. Beside the farm and pro­cess­ing facil­ity, Santa Elena also has an exten­sive nurs­ery oper­a­tion, a large ver­mi­cul­ture (worms) com­post­ing oper­a­tion, active social respon­si­bil­ity pro­grams, and com­mu­nity health, edu­ca­tion, and social out­reach programs.

The tour par­tic­i­pants from NAMA where able to totally immerse them­selves in the farm oper­a­tion under the sparkling and ener­getic direc­tion of Luz Marina Trujillo Stewart and her farm staff.

The fol­low­ing day we trav­elled to CICAFE, the national cof­fee research and exper­i­men­ta­tion facil­ity just out­side of San Jose in Heredia. Operated by ICAFE (The Institute of Coffee) was founded in May 1997 in order to con­sol­i­date agri­cul­tural and agro-business research into a sin­gle facil­ity. ICAFE and CICAFE are respon­si­ble not only for research in the cof­fee sec­tor but also main­te­nance and enforce­ment of Costa Rica’s unique method of ensur­ing fair and eth­i­cal trans­parency and com­pen­sa­tion for all par­ties through­out the sup­ply chain.

CICAFE tests new tech­nolo­gies uti­liz­ing the lat­est farm and pro­cess­ing equip­ment and sci­en­tific meth­ods from all indus­tries and then pro­vides infor­ma­tion to grow­ers in all eight key grow­ing regions of Costa Rica. In addi­tion, CICAFE oper­ates a 10-acre farm for new vari­etal devel­op­ment as well as cer­ti­fied seed stock cul­ti­va­tion for farmers.

By focus­ing on these two venues, we were able to pro­vide a great deal of depth with­out a great deal of travel. Upon return­ing to the Los Suenos Resort out­side of Jaco, Costa Rica, the par­tic­i­pants had a solid base of knowl­edge of cof­fee cul­ti­va­tion and the romance and chal­lenges of cof­fee life in coun­tries of origin.

We would like to thank all of the won­der­ful par­tic­i­pants, the staff of NAMA, Luz Marina Trujillo Stewart and her hus­band Jim Stewart (founder of Seattle’s Best Coffee) and the staff of ICAFE and CICAFE with­out whom none of this would have been possible.

Letters to the Editor

Categories: 2012, AprilTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

On Certification

Reflections on Certification from the South

The fol­low­ing excerpt is from an English trans­la­tion of an inter­view with Santiago Paz. This inter­view first appeared on Progreso Network on June 21, 2011. CEPICAFE is a Peruvian Coöperative with about 8000 mem­bers. They exported about 200,000 pounds of green beans in 2011.

Coffee has been, and con­tin­ues to be, the lead­ing Fair Trade prod­uct and what­ever hap­pens with cof­fee will mark the future of Fair Trade. And we are very con­cerned about what is hap­pen­ing currently.

In the 1990s, around the world and espe­cially in Peru, a process was under­taken to reac­ti­vate co-operatives and pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions. Fair Trade pro­vided us with an advan­tage; it allowed us to be more com­pet­i­tive, and this, in turn, enabled us to develop our orga­ni­za­tions. We have seen sig­nif­i­cant cof­fee sales and we have been able to diver­sify … with regards to the finan­cial mar­ket and with regards to the local market.

The first phase of Fair Trade was moti­vated by the sol­i­dar­ity of con­sumers that pur­chased cof­fee because of their social com­mit­ment. Then we moved into the sec­ond phase, which required another level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. This was an impor­tant step for­ward in which Fair Trade prod­ucts became syn­ony­mous with quality—superior to the cof­fee offered by the con­ven­tional mar­ket. That is when Fair Trade became a reality.

But now, FLO’s [Fair Trade Labeling Organization’s] incen­tives and pro­mo­tion is cre­at­ing a vision, which only con­sid­ers the impor­tance of gain­ing mar­ket share. The hypoth­e­sis is that if we lower prices, and if we lower the stan­dards, we can gain a greater share of the mar­ket. I think that this opti­mism and this vision that is lim­ited to gain­ing addi­tional mar­ket shares have brought us into a new phase that presents a seri­ous threat to our organizations.

On the con­sumer end, transna­tional com­pa­nies are now included in Fair Trade. And for [pro­duc­ers] as well, there are also large com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing. We will prob­a­bly not be able to com­pete with these com­pa­nies, so I think that now is the time to define the path. If Fair Trade con­tin­ues to fol­low a vision exclu­sively tied to growth, sales and the mar­ket­place, we believe that this is the wrong way to go. The impact and advances that have been achieved are at stake.

Unfortunately, these deci­sions are not cur­rently being made in the best inter­est of the pro­duc­ers; they are tak­ing into account the inter­ests of large com­pa­nies. We pro­pose a return to our ori­gins and sug­gest that the pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions should be the focal point.

We also think that Fair Trade in and of itself is not the end goal. We [pro­duc­ers] believe that in addi­tion to oper­at­ing com­pa­nies that buy and sell in a pro­fes­sional and effi­cient man­ner and com­pete in the inter­na­tional mar­ket, we should also act as orga­ni­za­tions. Examples [of these pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions] include CEPICAFE, COCLA, and ESCOBAZA. We have become pro­tag­o­nists and politi­cians; we play an impor­tant role in the econ­omy; and we believe that Fair Trade should use its influ­ence to impact regional deci­sions made by other insti­tu­tions, by inter­na­tional aid, and by local, regional and national gov­ern­ment. I think that this is the role that we play cur­rently and that this is what Fair Trade should be supporting.

Santiago Paz, Co-Manager of CEPICAFE in Peru

On Certifications

In the early 1990’s, I was for­tu­nate enough to work along­side local NGOs in Latin America, farm­ers and sci­en­tists in cre­at­ing the first stan­dard for sus­tain­able cof­fee farm­ing. The Sustainable Agriculture Network – a coali­tion of NGOs – man­ages the stan­dard that leads to Rainforest Alliance cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. In 1994, the coali­tion cer­ti­fied the first cof­fee farm, in Guatemala. Since then, the pro­gram has grown dra­mat­i­cally. Now, more than 1.1 mil­lion hectares of farm­land are cer­ti­fied as sus­tain­ably man­aged, includ­ing 400,000 farms grow­ing a bas­ket of crops in 35 coun­tries. More than 3,000 busi­nesses are par­tic­i­pat­ing, and hun­dreds of prod­ucts car­ry­ing the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal are flour­ish­ing in the market.

The pro­gram has been espe­cially attrac­tive to cof­fee farm­ers and com­pa­nies. By fol­low­ing the guide­lines, farm­ers learn to con­serve nat­ural resources, pro­vide proper rights and ben­e­fits to work­ers, pro­tect the envi­ron­ment, con­trol inputs and costs, increase yields, improve qual­ity, nego­ti­ate bet­ter prices and make nature an ally in devel­op­ing a healthy, attrac­tive, pro­duc­tive farm that ensures a bet­ter qual­ity of life for them and their children.

In those early days, as the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram was get­ting under way, some of us made the pil­grim­age from Central America to Vashon Island to meet the cof­fee guru Jim Stewart. He was sup­port­ive, help­ful, and even enthu­si­as­tic as he was also learn­ing first-hand about the chal­lenges that farm­ers faced then. We agreed that cof­fee roast­ers and mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies – all com­pa­nies, really – should move beyond the neo-colonialist mode of phil­an­thropy that was com­mon then. At the time, com­pa­nies thought that they could mit­i­gate their moral oblig­a­tion to the poor peo­ple in devel­op­ing coun­tries who sup­plied their raw ingre­di­ents – and at the same time give them­selves a nice mar­ket­ing story – by build­ing a school or drilling a well.

Those of us pro­mot­ing sus­tain­abil­ity insisted that com­pa­nies should move beyond projects to long-term engage­ment with farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Stewart did this through a foun­da­tion and by buy­ing directly from farm­ers. All large cof­fee com­pa­nies and many small roast­ers and retail­ers now sup­port their sup­pli­ers through cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams. It is a new era. Certification pro­grams give farm­ers guid­ance, tech­ni­cal assis­tance, access to resources, mar­ket con­nec­tions, moti­va­tion, pride and incen­tives. The pro­grams give com­pa­nies a way to take credit for their invest­ments in farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties while hold­ing them account­able. Certification forces com­pa­nies to back up their claims, pre­vent­ing them from tak­ing a life­time of credit for once hav­ing helped build a school.

Chris Wille
Chief of Sustainable Agriculture
The Rainforest Alliance

The Death of Coffee Certification — Let’s Hope

Categories: 2012, MarchTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Editor’s Note: The ques­tion of the future need for social and envi­ron­men­tal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion – and their asso­ci­ated costs – is very much on peo­ples’ minds. Instead of the reg­u­lar “View” from us, we decided instead to devote this space, and much of the rest of this issue, to opin­ions from promi­nent mem­bers of our com­mu­nity. First off is Jim Stewart, co-founder of Seattle’s Best Coffee and one of our industry’s early pio­neers in how to do “spe­cialty.” Farther on we hear from Bill Fishbein, co-founder of Coffee Kids and Founder of the Coffee Trust; Sandra Marquardt joins in sup­port­ing Organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion; and Fair Trade – USA™ par­tic­i­pates with a Q&A about their resent pol­icy changes. We hope you enjoy this exchange of opin­ions.
Kerri & Miles

In my opin­ion, cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in the cof­fee indus­try are a crutch used by roast­ers and to some degree, by pro­duc­ers as well. It facil­i­tates them not tak­ing the time to get on an air­plane, fly­ing to a pro­ducer coun­try, and form­ing their own close per­sonal rela­tion­ship with a cof­fee pro­ducer. Why should a pro­ducer pay a fee to some cer­ti­fi­ca­tion group, plus then an exporter and an importer each pay another fee to be in the pro­gram, and finally the roaster pays yet more fees, so some stranger can ver­ify their story? Why not tell it your­self? Surely, your cus­tomers will trust you! Let me tell you why. You get the lit­tle sticker so when Mrs. Housewife comes in and says I want Fair Trade, shade grown, rain for­est friendly, etc. etc. etc. cof­fee, Mr. Roaster can point to his lit­tle sticker or maybe 2, 3, or 4 lit­tle stick­ers and say, “yup” we got it lady. What a cop out!

Let’s back up
I live on Vashon Island in Washington State. A very unique place, in fact I expect the sec­ond com­ing to occur there. With lots of cre­ative, sen­si­tive, organic, earth friendly, results ori­ented, opin­ion­ated types of folks. They are on the cut­ting edge of many trends that are way ahead of their time.

So, early one morn­ing in Costa Rica watch­ing CNN, sip­ping my farm’s wild har­vest typ­ica cof­fee, on the screen appears a ring of 24 naked les­bians toe to toe form­ing a “cir­cle of peace” on the cold wet rocks of a Vashon Island beach. It was the first pub­lic nation­ally tele­vised protest of the Iraq inva­sion. As I said these Vashonites are the lead­ers of many trends.

I would say, it was maybe 5 or 6 years ago that some of these same peo­ple, pri­mar­ily the Vashon organic pro­duce farm­ers said “NO”! NO MORE, to organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Why, they said, should we pay a total stranger in New York City who may not have as much as a flower pot in his or her win­dow a fee that says to my cus­tomers that I am an organic farmer? Further. I know my cus­tomers and they know me. They are wel­come to visit the farm and see first hand what my farm­ing prac­tices are. See my chil­dren play­ing in the fields and know for sure that it is safe. They can choose to trust me the farmer, their neigh­bor and not rely on the word of a total stranger. This is hard to argue with in itself and we have not even touched on the added cost to the con­sumer for this ser­vice. This cost, when push comes to shove, is meet­ing with high resis­tance at the con­sumer level. Fact is in my 40 years at SBC the cus­tomer never was will­ing to pay for all the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion costs and much of it was born by the company.

Several years ago, I stood up, totally out of char­ac­ter, and stated the above at a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sym­po­sium in Costa Rica’s Sintercafe. My point being that I pre­dicted the end of the cof­fee cer­ti­fi­ca­tion folly in the next five years based on the actions of the Vashon Island organic pro­duce farm­ers. The room, mostly made up of pro­duc­ers and roaster retail­ers plus 6 to 8 of the var­i­ous cer­ti­fi­ca­tion groups exploded in applause.

I hate to com­plain if I can­not offer an alter­na­tive or a solu­tion. I went on to explain that I, in 1977 as a tiny break-even-at-best cof­fee roaster retailer got on a plane and trav­eled through­out Central and South America vis­it­ing cof­fee exporters and pro­duc­ers and how that trip lead to buy­ing directly from pro­duc­ing coun­tries (always thru exporters). I formed per­sonal busi­ness rela­tion­ships and friend­ships that I still keep today. I spoke directly to farm­ers about my con­cerns and rec­om­men­da­tions with regard to the envi­ron­ment, tra­di­tional prepa­ra­tion, the vari­ety of tree, social well­be­ing, etc. etc. etc. You see I was the buyer offer­ing to buy their prod­uct at a pre­mium when my sug­ges­tions were fol­lowed. I was not from some cer­ti­fy­ing orga­ni­za­tion charg­ing for my ser­vice, and leav­ing the farmer with a dream that buy­ers would be clam­or­ing for their cof­fee and pay­ing mag­nif­i­cent prices because they had some stamp of approval. I went on to explain how these rela­tion­ships lead to the for­ma­tion of The Vashon Island Coffee Foundation (the sec­ond best kept secret in the cof­fee indus­try). Thru this foun­da­tion we returned some of the inter­na­tional value of the cof­fee we pur­chased directly to cof­fee pro­duc­ing com­mu­ni­ties in many coun­tries but in par­tic­u­lar to Santiago de Atitlan in Guatemala. In that com­mu­nity, we built two schools, a water sys­tem, a road, and a clinic. You see we did that because we thought we should, because it was right, and not because it was a mar­ket­ing strat­egy. You guys can do it too, you can, and I know you will, in time, just like those Vashon Island pro­duce farm­ers did.

The mod­er­a­tor then gave the cer­ti­fy­ing guys a chance for rebut­tal and I will never ever for­get what Chris Willy of The Rain Forest Alliance said! “We don’t want you build­ing schools!” I was so shocked I could not respond. “‘Scuse me ‘scuse me, what did you just say?” I was so stunned that I never did go to him for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. We were so proud of the work we did, those projects changed lives, and they were the great­est projects. What could he have pos­si­bly have meant?

I made these com­ments after I had sold SBC and was very clear then as I am now that these are my per­sonal feel­ings and have noth­ing what­so­ever to do with cur­rent SBC pol­icy, sup­pos­ing they have any policy.

I more or less for­got about it, went on about my busi­ness of enjoy­ing life and then about three years ago I began help­ing two roast­ers, one on Vashon Island and the other on Whidbey Island buy cof­fee directly from pro­duc­ing coun­tries. These roast­ers are con­tin­u­ing my per­sonal rela­tion­ships and mak­ing them their own. They have trav­eled to the farms that sup­ply their cof­fee to wit­ness first hand the ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion. They also tes­tify to their own com­mit­ments, pas­sion, and appre­ci­a­tion for the producer’s effort. The roast­ers use the expe­ri­ence to edu­cate their cus­tomers thereby sup­port­ing and jus­ti­fy­ing the value and price of the prod­uct. This fur­ther cre­ates a great feel­ing for the cus­tomer for their con­tri­bu­tion to rais­ing the stan­dard of liv­ing for cof­fee work­ers in devel­op­ing countries.

You can imag­ine my glee when this January I asked the roast­ers how much cer­ti­fied organic cof­fee they wanted and they both said, “none!” Independent of one another they both said we are drop­ping cer­ti­fied organic. “The gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions have become too dif­fi­cult, too expen­sive, and we do not need the aggra­va­tion. The vol­ume does not sup­port the headache and the cost. We are devel­op­ing our own pro­grams based on our trav­els and explain­ing this to our clients directly face to face, one on one. The folks like it bet­ter to be shar­ing with us our per­sonal expe­ri­ences and feel a real con­nec­tion to the cof­fee farm­ers. Quite hon­estly there has been a lot of resis­tance to the added cost of certification.”

Food for thought!

Jim Stewart, along with his brother David, founded Seattle’s Best Coffee within their ice cream par­lor called the Wet Whisker. Seattle’s Best grew to become one of the pre­em­i­nent spe­cialty cof­fee com­pa­nies world-wide. An early true believer in spe­cialty cof­fee, Stewart is truly one of our industry’s great­est luminaries.