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335. Introducing The Coffeelands Portrait Project

CRS works with more than 35,000 smallholder coffee farmers in 12 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.  The Coffeelands Portrait Project will introduce you to some of them.  Today’s post explains the project’s origins and approach; today’s inaugural gallery features 10 gorgeous portraits of farmers participating in our Borderlands Coffee Project in Colombia.

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The project concept was born in El Salvador in early 2011.  As we photographed cafeteros participating in our CAFE Livelihoods project, something serendipitous happened.  Juan, one of the founding members of the Las Colinas cooperative, told us the story of how the coop was born during El Salvador’s agrarian reform in 1980.  As he talked, he pulled a treasure from his wallet: a photo of himself as a young man and conscript in El Salvador’s civil war.  It was clearly something Juan valued.  After all, he had held on to it for more than 30 years.  I took a picture of him with his antique portrait.

We felt like we were onto something.

When we took photos of members of the the Las Cruces cooperative, we asked farmers and coop leaders to pose with the tools of their respective trades: Joel, the accountant, with a ledger; Jennifer, the pastor, with the basket she uses during harvest to pick coffee; Gilberto, the security guard, with his a pistol and machete.  And we brought a chalkboard so they could introduce themselves.  Literally.

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The photos were not professional, but they were honest.  The white background focused the viewer’s attention fully on the subjects: the smallholder farmers who grow our coffee.  The chalkboards seemed to offer an additional medium of communication.  And Juan’s picture led us to reflect on the idea of treasure.  What if we photographed hundreds of farmers with their own treasures?  After kicking it around for a while, we decided to launch The Coffeelands Portrait Project.

The project will engage professional photographers.  And be deliberate about bringing together some of the elements we stumbled onto in the Central America portraits: the white background.  The chalkboard.  The treasure.  It is starting today with farmers participating in our Borderlands Coffee Project in South America.  Over the course of the next year, it will expand to include farmers we work with in Haiti, Central America, East Africa and Southeast Asia.





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