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301. Borderlands coffee quality, by the numbers

The intensive baseline survey for our Borderlands project in Colombia and Ecuador will give us a detailed understanding the demographic, social and economic conditions in which participating farmers are living.  What it won’t tell us is anything about the quality of the coffee that they grow.  So we conducted a separate baseline process in Colombia to find out just how good their coffee is.  Here, by the numbers, is a summary of the Colombia quality baseline – a mighty undertaking in its own right.

53: NUMBER OF COMMUNITIES IN COLOMBIA WHERE BORDERLANDS WORKS

Borderlands is supporting 1,600 smallholder farming families living in 53 communities in three separate coffee-producing regions of Nariño.   The department of Nariño (the equivalent of a U.S. state) lies on Colombia’s southern border with Ecuador, and is so renowned for the quality of its coffee that of all Colombia’s 15 coffee-growing departments, it is the only one that commands an across-the-board price premium.

But many of the farmers participating in the project are highly vulnerable, including people recently displaced from other parts of the country by Colombia’s long-running armed conflict.  And none has had the kind of direct trading relationships that are so instrumental in helping smallholder farmers improve the quality of their coffee.  Our hypothesis when we started the baseline was that on average, their coffee would not meet the rigorous sourcing standards of specialty coffee buyers, and that investing to improve quality would be a project priority.

5: NUMBER OF AGROECOLOGICAL PRODUCTION ZONES IN PROJECT AREA

CRS maintains an action-research partnership for the Borderlands project with CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) based in Cali, Colombia.  The relationship helps CRS, which is focused on developing and implementing projects on the ground, bring more scientific rigor to its programming in the hope of generating greater impact for smallholder farmers.  The CRS partnership with CIAT has enriched the quality baseline by creating credible agroecological parameters for our samples.

CIAT supported Nariño’s Denomination of Origin project, and in the process developed a research methodology that identifies distinctive agroecological niches — areas that share similar agroecological conditions and produce coffee with similar cup characteristics.  CIAT applied this methodology to the Borderlands project area to identify five distinct agroecological production zones in the areas where Borderlands is working.

72: NUMBER OF BASELINE SAMPLES GENERATED

Another area in which CIAT has strengthened the Borderlands project is the econometric approach we have taken together to the baseline process.  With the core baseline survey, CIAT helped CRS take a randomized sample of farmers from the project area, meaning that CRS will be able to generalize the results from the observed sample to the full project population.  CIAT helped CRS take the same sampling approach to the samples we collected for the quality baseline.

CIAT randomly selected 82 farms across the five agroecological production zones, and CRS collected about 15 pounds of dried parchment coffee from each farm for use in the baseline.  Ten of those samples did not meet minimum physical requirements for shipment.  The remaining 72 were sent to exporters, importers and roasters collaborating with the project for cupping, each one labeled with the following information:

  • Farmer name.
  • Community.
  • Geographic coordinates.
  • Elevation.
  • Variety.
  • Overall state of post-harvest infrastructure.
  • Drying infrastructure.
  • Drying time.
  • Available certifications.

5: NUMBER OF ROASTERS CUPPING THE COFFEE (+ 2 EXPORTERS and 2 IMPORTERS)

Nine companies in Colombia, the United States and Europe that have agreed to provide feedback on coffee quality to project participants over the five years of the project received baseline samples and are finishing cupping them this month.

(If you are an importer or roaster interested in joining the Borderlands cupping panel, leave a comment saying so or write me at the email address listed here.)

89.5: TOP SCORE REPORTED TO DATE

The results of the cupping process have been encouraging.  Three U.S.-based roasters have reported average scores between 83 and 85, with an overall low of 81 and a high of 89.5.  That means that all the coffees meet the minimum specialty threshold of 80, and some would already quality for significant quality premiums.  We look forward to working with participating farmers over the next four years to help them improve the quality of their coffee, and helping them foster new direct trading relationships with roasters and importers.

 

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