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Reaffirming our Partnering Vision in Colombia

Five Senses CoffeeJacob Ibarra 28 August 2014

In my last blog article, I wrote about the weather-related difficulties which are facing our Primaveral association in Colombia. I also expressed my delight that our friends at Fairfield Trading on the ground were able to round up beautiful coffee despite the weather.

However, uncovering the true situation on the ground regarding the upcoming harvest was only one half of my objective for Colombia this year. About a month ago, I was worried that the Primaveral Association were going to sell their coffee elsewhere. A rather slick fellow was going around making a lot of promises about pricing and status. He was somehow backed by Dutch government money and he seemed to have the ear of the Primaveral association. Honestly, things looked as if they were about to take a disheartening turn. However, after several conversations, our partners in this project, Fairfield Trading and Cafe Imports, were able to come to agreeable terms with the association and have them recommit to the project. Thus it was our turn to visit, share our partnering vision with the farmers of Primaveral, and add a sense of value to the relationship.

Farmers’ lives are tough. I love coffee with a romantic passion and believe I work hard because of it, but I tip my hat to these producers and the work they put in to delivering their coffee. Factor in all the additional labour it takes to process, dry and prepare specialty grade coffee and I, literally, have nothing but respect for those who produce our coffee. I say all that because there is a part of me that very much sympathizes when farmers are lured by grand promises and I understand why they might gamble long term security for a quick hit of cash. Most of these producers are desperately strapped for cash as they have to pay their pickers weekly, but they don’t actually receive payment for their delivered coffee until weeks later. This makes it hard for them not to listen to those who chatter about big bucks. As I went into our Primaveral meeting, I tried to keep all that in mind.

The meeting was held at Omar Cardena’s farm, home to one of the more esteemed producers in the group. The first thing I realized was that there were way more people at the meeting than I expected. Some 50 farmers and their families showed up to hear what I might have to say. Generally, I am pretty good with my nerves, but I could tell they were trying to come to the surface at this meeting. Thankfully, I had some really helpful conversations with Alejandro (of Fairfield Trading) and also with my wife which prepared me and helped me keep my message clear.

The heart of what I expressed was that we at Five Senses have a long term vision for Primaveral.

We were elated to purchase coffee from them last year as the potential for long term partnership was evident from the start. Primaveral has the capacity to produce exceptional coffee and deliver the volume we need. However, we need to share that vision together and think beyond a single year. We need a reliable partner year after year who is focused on quality.

I also tried to add a sense of value to how we represent their coffee in Australia. I told them that we have roasteries on both sides of the country and that you can find their coffee in many cafes and restaurants from the east to west of Australia. I gave out shirts with their logo on them and explained how we have tried to create an identity around their coffee. They seemed quite moved when I also mentioned that I buy coffee from all around the world and that their coffee sits proudly in our line-up.

As I wrapped up, Eduardo (the vice president) took over and something rather neat happened. Eduardo asked everyone to stand up, in solidarity, and show their support for delivering quality coffee to Five Senses. Truthfully, I was touched and fairly relieved that we are all starting this new harvest on the same page.

Oh, and we did get into pricing. It turns out that when the farmers do deliver coffee that meets the Primaveral standards, as detailed in the last blog, our premium sits some 100,000 pesos more than the nearest Acevedo competitor. In fact, in the case, when the coffee achieves a yield factor of higher than 92.8 they can earn even more and it would not be unheard of for them to achieve a 200,000 peso premium — roughly equivalent to $100.00 USD.

Realistically, I know that our relational work is far from complete. The people of Acevedo have struggled through many years of instability due to their remote location in Colombia.

In fact, five years ago it would have been questionable to travel to this city. Because of that, they are tough and proud and rightfully so. Furthering our relationship and adding value that has more meaning than just a dollar sign is going to take work. I am just hoping that my parents’ words that you enjoy something more when you work hard for it somehow ring true over the coming years.

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