Colombian coffee certifications: Colombia is the world’s third largest coffee producer, with its renowned Café de Colombia brand and Protected Designation of Origin status cementing the high international regard for Colombian coffee. This reputation allows Colombian coffee to command premium pricing, evidenced by a 67.20 cents per pound premium over other mild washed coffees as of 2022.
Seeking access to discerning specialty markets, multiple sustainability certifications have been promoted in Colombia, meeting consumer demand for healthy, ethical products via regulations on clean production, fair worker treatment, and more. However, certification requires adaptations that raise production costs for growers, causing many to question the benefit.
To address this concern, I consulted Alejandro Rivera of Mayacert, Miguel Angel Gamboa of Rainforest Alliance, and Luz Stella Reyes of Comepcafé. Keep reading to learn their insights on how certifications ultimately boost producer incomes despite the initial investment required.
Also read: Colombia’s coffee renewal cycles: How do they work and how to implement them?
Why are certifications important for small producers?
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Certifications provide value, specialty market access, and promote agricultural, environmental, and social best practices per the International Coffee Organization. Major Colombia certifications include Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Organic, Bird Friendly, 4C, Starbucks CAFE Practices, and Nespresso AAA.
Alejandro Rivera of Mayacert states certifications primarily enable market access, as many buyers now require certified, sustainable products. Secondly, certification builds organizational capacity and growth opportunities for producers. Requirements like good agricultural practices facilitate farm management, organization, and traceability – all crucial for accessing diverse markets.
Luz Stella Reyes of Comepcafé notes certifications align with their cooperative’s approach. Especially Fairtrade’s 147 criteria, which have informed their management strategy, administration, and producer guidelines. Organic certification also complements their largely indigenous community’s harmony with nature.
Miguel Gamboa of Rainforest Alliance says their certification empowers producers to control their farms, reduce costs, and improve yields and quality through internal management.
In summary, certifications provide marketability, organizational development, and sustainability frameworks that benefit Colombian coffee producers despite the initial investment.
How easy is it for a producer to access certifications?
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Mayacert recognizes implementing any certification standard is complex, requiring management systems, training, and understanding the standards. In Colombia, producer groups often hire consultants for implementation support, struggling most with management and record-keeping.
Luz Stella Reyes of Comepcafé emphasizes that while standards provide a roadmap, meeting demands is costly and challenging for organizations lacking resources. The highly technical, inflexible criteria must be navigated carefully, considering the auditor’s familiarity with regional contexts. Renewals require periodic strategic planning to address evolving rigorous inspection.
For Rainforest Alliance, merging with UTZ brought added complexity, integrating new regulations that, while demanding, are achievable with preparation. Technical teams must be ready for meticulous audits under the new expanded criteria.
In summary, all certifications demand significant internal capacity-building, management expertise, and flexibility to adapt to evolving requirements. External support can facilitate implementation for resource-constrained producer groups.
Cost-benefit of certifications for small producers
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Alejandro notes certifications should be considered investments initially, with premiums later covering control systems and renewal costs. Miguel adds group certifications reduce expenses, providing technical support. Well-structured groups see income growth over time.
Rainforest Alliance aims to boost income via better practices while conserving resources and nature’s sustainability. However, certification premiums fluctuate based on global markets. When prices are low, premiums become more attractive, motivating producers. But with Colombia’s prices rising significantly, premiums fade compared to untracked coffee earning excellent profits at lower effort.
Comepcafé’s Fairtrade premiums have partially funded development projects. But Luz Stella reveals certified farm counts dropped amid climate effects, sample testing rigor finding disqualifying traces potentially from neighboring farms, and transport pollution. Though Fairtrade farms declined, premiums represent 30-40% of reinvestment funds, providing organizational sustainability.
In summary, certifications enable small Colombian producers to develop capabilities and access specialty markets, if substantial commitment and resources allow compliance. But with high conventional prices, premium incentives are less enticing. Market dynamics should determine if certifications warrant the investment.