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429. Colombian coffee commission’s 10 key messages

2014 October 27

Late last week I published this post on the preliminary report of the blue-chip presidential commission assigned to analyze Colombia’s coffee institutions and recommend reforms.  The following day, Juan José Echavarría, the former Colombian Finance Minister and  trusted economic advisor to President Juan Manuel Santos who leads the Misión del Café, gave this interview to Radio Caracol in which he broke down the 10 key points of the commission’s work.  I summarize them below.

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428. Colombia: The gloves come off

2014 October 23

Last week, in an interview published here, SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart held up Colombia as a shining example of a country in which public investment in the coffee sector has helped to make the coffee trade more inclusive, profitable and sustainable.  This week, a presidential commission in Colombia asked to analyze the country’s coffee institutions and recommend reforms to make them more inclusive, profitable and sustainable issued its preliminary findings.  Turns out, it wants to tear those institutions down to the studs and rebuild them with a leaner, more contemporary architecture.  The official response has been fast and furious.  The debate is charged, and the future of Colombian coffee hangs in the balance.

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427. A conversation with Ric Rhinehart on the future of coffee in Mesoamerica

2014 October 16

Last week I participated in Let’s Talk Coffee, importer Sustainable Harvest’s annual value chain event, for the fifth time.  The content of the event was broader the caliber of the speakers higher than at any other LTC event I remember.  But the best presentation of the event—the one that still has me thinking the better part of a week later—was not a presentation at all.  It was three related comments made in rapid succession by SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart during the event’s opening panel discussion on the state of the coffee market:

  1. the coffee sectors Brasil, Colombia and Vietnam are emblematic of what happens when the government gets into the game,
  2. Panama’s coffee sector, by contrast, is emblematic of what happens when the government stays on the sidelines, and
  3. Panama’s coffee sector is beautiful for a certain kind of grower and terrifying for another kind of grower.

Today I interview Ric regarding his comments and their implications for growers, governments and industry.


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426. CRS seeks coffee professionals in Africa

2014 October 9
by Michael Sheridan

CRS is seeking coffee professionals for ongoing projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Uganda.


CRS is continuing to search for a Chief of Party to lead the Bora Ya Kivu Specialty Coffee Program in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The project, funded jointly by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID, is creating market-based opportunities in an area previously known less for coffee than relentless armed conflict.   If you speak French, know coffee and have experience managing projects in Africa, this an extraordinary opportunity to help lead the emergence of one of specialty coffee’s most exciting new origins.  (This the same origin that won the 2014 SCAA Sustainability Award and is producing so many superlative coffees that specialty buyers are tripping over each other for access.)  Learn more about this opportunity and apply here.


In Ethiopia, where we are working with cooperatives on a range of collaborative efforts all along the coffee chain, CRS is recruiting qualified volunteers for the following opportunities:

  • Coffee waste management–assess environmental impacts of coffee milling operations and identify possible uses and by-products for coffee waste.
  • Coffee quality improvement–the Kelaltu-Husa-Gola Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (KMFCS) in Abaya/Oromia seeks qualified support for coffee quality improvement.
  • Coffee milling upgrades–provide technical guidance on upgrades to post-harvest coffee processing, with a particular focus on cup quality.  There are three separate volunteer opportunities in Sidama with cooperatives that belong to the Sidama Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union:
  1. Gidibo and Shecha Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (GSMFC)–Aleta Wondo/Sidama
  2. Kege Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (KMFC)–Dale/Sidama
  3. Waycho Multipurpose Farmers’ Cooperative (WMFC)–Dale/Sidama


In Uganda we have opportunities for two breeders/experts in coffee propagation.

If you apply for any of these opportunities, please tell my colleagues in HQ that you read all about them here on the CRS Coffeelands Blog!


425. And so it begins

2014 October 1

When we published our 2014 New Year’s resolutions back in January, at the top of the list was this: “enlist industry leaders and research institutes in a comparative cupping of two leading Colombian coffee varieties, Castillo and Caturra.”

That public commitment set off nine months of frenetic activity during which we collaborated with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) on research design, developed a partnership with World Coffee Research, recruited some of the best sensory people in coffee and spent lots of time with growers in Nariño collecting coffee.

Today, all that hard work pays off: the Colombia Sensory Trial gets underway at the Intelligentsia Roasting Works in Chicago.  Below, a quick-and-dirty guide to the who, what, when, where, why and how of the whole affair.

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424. CQI launches gender initiative

2014 September 29

Kimberly Easson has been present at the creation of lots of noteworthy efforts to make the coffee trade more equitable.  She was part of the original team that brought Fair Trade Certification to the U.S. coffee market in 1999 to create new market opportunities for smallolder farmers.  In 2003, she co-founded the International Women’s Coffee Alliance which works to empower women in coffee.  And later this week in Colombia she will launch the Coffee Quality Institute’s Partnership for Gender Equity , whose ambition is nothing less than securing a future in which coffee communities thrive.

Today I interview Kimberly about her work on gender issues in coffee generally and the CQI initiative in particular.



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423. Born into coffee: Observations from a third-generation colono in El Salvador

2014 September 22

From 2008-2011, I was involved in a CRS coffee project in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua called CAFE Livelihoods.  In late 2008, I convened the project teams from each of the four countries for the first time in Managua.  To open the first session, I paired each person with a colleague from another country and asked them to spend a few minutes getting to know one another.  I also asked each person to share some story of a personal connection with coffee.  When we reconvened, we had a round of introductions and coffee stories.

The exercise served as a powerful reminder of the cultural significance of coffee in Mesoamerica.  I learned that one colleague from Guatemala spent a lot of his youth in the coffeelands tagging along with his father, a capataz, or farm manager, for coffee estates in the western highlands.  I learned that a colleague from Nicaragua spent every harvest at a coffee estate near the town where he grew up, picking coffee alongside his mother.  And I learned that my colleague Ivania Rivas from El Salvador was born into coffee.  Literally.  She was a third-generation colono, or permanent farmworker, born on the historic MALACARA estate in Santa Ana.

As I have gotten more engaged professionally on issues related to coffee farmworkers, I reconnected with Ivania to hear more of her story.  I am glad I did.  It is an amazing story of three generations of determined women in coffee.

Ivania Schurer (nee Rivas) on the Malacara estate when she was five years old. (Photo courtesy of Ivania Schurer.)

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422. Women’s work in coffee

2014 September 15
by Michael Sheridan

Last week Root Capital published this issue brief on gender lens investing in the coffeelands.  I posted some reflections on that publication here, and made reference to the fact that men and women experience the world differently as a result of the social construct of their respective gender roles.

The data we collected in Colombia as part of our Borderlands baseline survey show that men and women Nariño do, in fact, experience coffee farming differently.  For most women, coffee is something they mill and dry in close proximity to their homes.

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421. Root Capital shines light on women in the shadows

2014 September 11
by Michael Sheridan

Back in February, Root Capital released a white paper on social and environmental performance management—the inaugural publication in a series of issue briefs on strategic insights the organization has gleaned from its work.  Last week, Root published the second brief in the series—this one focused on gender lens investing—that is worth a closer look.

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420. 10 minutes with Barista

2014 September 4
by Michael Sheridan

In a quotation from the late 1960s widely (if falsely) attributed to Andy Warhol, the artist was rumored to have said that “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”

In today’s context of hyperconnectivity, social media, interwebs and shrinking attention spans, we may only get 10 minutes.  If so, mine may have come today in this profile, the latest installment of the Barista Magazine blog’s “10 Minutes With…” segment.

Thanks, Sarah and Barista!