A New Path in Peru, Part I
Friday, August 15, 2008
Keith Tomlinson, Peace Coffee Staff
During the end of May and the beginning of June, I traveled around northern Peru with a group of seven people (myself included) to meet with two organizations from which Peace Coffee sources coffee through Cooperative Coffees. Our first stop was the cooperative Cenfrocafe. They formed in 1999 when 8 associations representing 220 coffee producers joined together. This action was a result of a program initiated in 1995 by then Peruvian President Alberto Fujimoro's government that successfully reduced overall coca production in Peru by 60 percent. This left an overall gap in the use of farmland that the original associations saw as an opportunity. The initial main objectives of Cenfrocafe were to increase the quality and yields of coffee and to provide access to credit while increasing the strength of the organization. In 2003, Cenfrocafe began exporting its first containers of Fair Trade coffee. They now have more than 2000 members, separated into eight regional networks. There are twenty-six people on their technical team including four agronomists. They have a strategic plan up through 2015 that focuses most broadly on developing organizations and communities in accordance with their mission of harmony with the environment and quality products.
My trip to Peru truly begins with the coffee farmer, Lucia Zurita Zurita, a member of Cenfrocafe. She is part of the Chinchiquilla community in the San Ignacio region of Peru. On a map, this is the region that borders the southern most portion of Ecuador. Of her six children, two of them, Jesus Pina Zurita and his sister, live on the farm with her. The other children, the youngest of which is seven, are in school. The Chinchiquilla community is located at 1800 meters in the Andes. In this part of the Andes, a thirty-mile drive ends up taking about an hour and a half. Given that the highest point of the Andes is 7000 meters and the average elevation is 4000 meters, for the Andes these are the foothills. But in the world of coffee, 1800 meters is a very high elevation for growing, as specialty coffee is usually grown between 800 and 1500 meters. There tends to be a direct relationship between elevation and quality of coffee. Extrapolating this, the Chinchiquilla community has the potential for some of the best coffee in the world.
I met Lucia partially by accident. The President of Cenfrocafe, Anner Roman Neira, along with a few other key colleagues, was escorting the group from Cooperative Coffees up to Chinchiquilla. We were the first group of coffee buyers to ever visit this area of farmers. The day was meant to go like this: We would arrive to the playing of a band at the entrance of the community center. As a group we would all have breakfast and then hike about three miles up into the farms to meet with a farmer who would show us their overall processes and talk to us about what it was like being a farmer and a member of Cenfrocafe. We would then walk back down to the community center in order to have lunch. After lunch, we would be ceremoniously sat down in a line while farmer representatives of 9 different area communities stood in a large oval displaying each producer group's banner. Each banner, which required four to five people to hold it completely taut, displayed the group's name, slogan and logo. For the next four hours, people would speak and welcome us to their community. They would ask questions of us, specifically of Monika Firl, Cooperative Coffee's producer relations manager, and they would give inspiring speeches about relationships, solidarity, and communication. There would be traditional dances by the local youth, there would be imitations of the popular chicha dance by us visitors, and there would also be a group of men with moonshine and one glass coming around about every twenty minutes pouring each of us generous shots and patiently waiting for us to finish before moving on to the next person. And this is what happened with two exceptions.
First, on the way up to the community one of our vehicles had a flat tire, due to the treacherous driving conditions. This provided a nice break and a chance to take pictures of the stunning surroundings. The closest I've ever coming to this type of view was in the smoky mountains north of Georgia where you at times are looking down upon a cloud. The other change in plans was that somehow we got sidetracked on our three mile hike up to meet a farmer. Someone saw Lucia's son Jesus working and I guess assumed that he was the farmer we were supposed to meet. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that we would figure out this was not the case. Jesus took it all in stride, which contributed to our assumptions. He showed us all of his processes, introduced us to his mother, took us down into their coffee fields, took pictures with us, let us harvest some coffee and answered every question we had.
Lucia's farm is eight hectares in size, which amounts to the size of about fifteen American football fields including the end zones. Of those eight hectares, three are planted with coffee, all of the coffee species Arabica, the majority of which are the varietals Cattura and Pache, a mutation of Typica. From the time it is a seedling, coffee takes three years to begin producing fruit, the seed of which is what we roast to make coffee. In this area of Peru, harvesting cherries begins in May and continues until September. Typically, the lower grown coffee matures first while the higher elevation coffee takes a longer time to develop and thus contributes to the overall density and complexity of the seed and its flavors. There are certain micro-climates where you will see plants that have ripe cherries and flowers on the same branch of the tree. While we did see some of this on Lucia's farm, they were for the most part at the beginning of their harvest. All harvesting is done by hand.
While Jesus was touring us around the farm, we happened upon his sister and a couple of other people who where harvesting coffee. They were patient with us and taught us some basic harvesting techniques allowing us to slow down their productivity and their day. The tour was cut short when Joe Lloyd, of Durango Joe's in Durango, Colorado, found us and informed us that he and about half of the group, including Anner, Cenfrocafe's President, had been about a mile up the road at the planned farm waiting for us. Once they realized where we were, everyone backtracked to find us. We went forward with the program as planned, but now on Lucia's farm instead of the original one. Sitting about 20 feet from Lucia's house is a beautiful new coffee washing station. One of Cenfrocafe's current projects is to provide micro-loans for each producer member to have installed a new tile-lined washing station in conjunction with a new depulper. Every farmer that we saw in the Chinchiquilla community had one already installed.
A quick side note on some weight conversions in coffee. This has taken me about two years to fully understand. I will do my best to explain it here. We sell roasted coffee by the pound. During the roasting process some weight is lost, so for every 1.2 pounds of green beans you get one pound of roasted coffee. Here at Peace Coffee, we get green coffee in burlap bags in 152.12 pound increments of what is called oro or pilado. Pilado is the final stage of coffee before it leaves to be imported here. Before pilado is what is called pergamino. Pergamino has an outer parchment on it that is removed in a dry mill. Pergamino is the final stage of coffee before the farmer sells it to Cenfrocafe. The parchment accounts for about 20 percent of the weight of pergamino. So for every pound of pilado there is 1.2 pounds of pergamino. Before pergamino is the coffee in the cherry. The cherry pulp accounts for 43 percent of the overall coffee weight. So, for one pound of pergamino there is 1.75 pounds of coffee fruit. If you play this all out, one pound of roasted coffee requires 2.6 pounds of coffee cherry fruits. All in all, one tree will produce about one pound of roasted coffee per year. When talking about coffee in origin all weight measurements are done in terms of quintales, which is equal to 100 pounds. The reason I have digressed (and why this information is relevant) is because in various conversations people will talk about quintales of coffee, but depending on where in the processing chain you are, you will be talking about totally different things. A farmer sells coffee and measures production in terms of quintales pergamino, while an exporter will talk about coffee in terms of quintales oro.
At any given time, the washing station can hold three quintales of pergamino. Lucia is expecting to produce 40 quintales this year. Last year, her farm produced 24.10 quintales. Built above the washing station is a drying patio. This part of Peru can be quite humid and so drying coffee can take between two to six days. The drying patio is one of the limitations of Lucia's infrastructure. They don't really have enough space to dry all of the coffee that they are harvesting as quickly as they are processing it. So, typically, most of the farmers dry their coffee partially, then bring it down to Jaen where Cenfrocafe has space available to dry it down to the required 12% moisture content. As the harvest goes on and the dried coffee is bagged by the quintal, trips are made down to Jaen. Usually the community will choose a representative person to take several families' coffees in at once, though it is not entirely uncommon for a single farmer to take his/her own coffee to be graded and purchased.
When the coffee gets to the processing warehouse in Jaen, it is met by a man named Wilson Diaz Quispe. Wilson is the quality control manager and the point person for all pergamino that comes into Cenfrocafe's doors. So, when Lucia's coffee comes in the door, it goes through a rigorous grading process that determines the price she will get for her coffee, but also contains a system of feedback that incorporates past year's information as well as immediate grading of the coffee she has just brought in. Each bag is immediately labeled with a bright green tag that lists the farmer's name, the name of their association and the date.
From there all of the coffee is weighed. Wilson then pulls random samples from each bag of coffee until he has a 400-gram sample. From here, the coffee gets put into what was my favorite new machine of my entire trip to Peru. This machine turns pergamino into pilado; it is basically a mini-dry mill all on its own. After the sample is removed it is passed through a size 14 screen, which means that any coffee below a certain size is removed from the sample. It is once again weighed to see what kind of yield was received. Then, Wilson hand removes all of the defects and keeps them to the side then weighs the sample.
It is this final ratio that determines what quality tier and thereby what pricing tier the coffee ends up in. There are three major categories: A, B and C. The coffee is classified "A" if the final yield lies between 74-78%, "B" is 68-73%, and "C" is 60-66%. So if after Wilson has peeled the coffee and removed the defects there remains between 296-308 grams, the coffee will be classified as "A" quality. Last year, of the 29,000 quintales(qq) pergamino Cenfrocafe received 27,000qq were classified as type "A." Last year an "A" organic coffee was paid upon receipt 320soles/qq. With last year's dollars to sole exchange rate of $3.05 per sole, that amounts to about $1.05/lb pergamino initial payment to the farmer. Then for coffees that arrive in the "A" or "B" range farmers are given a second quality premium payment that is established once the prices the coffee is sold for are set. Last year 30 extra soles/qq were paid to the farmer, resulting in an additional $.10 per pound pergamino.