5 Minute Read
Guatemala and El Salvador
Continuous small improvements and innovations have been the way that we as a species have evolved and adapted to new eras and changes. There is no magic formula or a unique way, it takes time and learning from mistakes.
The Caravela Approach
Caravela's approach with coffee farms is the same, as there is no secret formula for success. Every farm is different, and nothing works in isolation from the rest of the system; it is the sum of many processes which makes the puzzle assemble and re-assemble. When we start working on a farm, we try to take ‘baby steps’, not running to change or improve every process at the same time. Our PECA team works on understanding the context through conversation, history and analysis and then after grasping this they can apply what would be the best approach and decide where to start. By focusing on the most pressing issues first, this helps farmers see the results of the changes made without risking too much, all at once. It also mitigates the problem of not understanding what caused something to happen, which in turn would make it hard to replicate. Working like this helps farmers take ownership of every step, allowing them different ways to approach their farm and innovate, without risking their entire income. At the same time, improving lot-by-lot achieves cost reductions, higher productivity and/or better quality, which in turn results in higher incomes that can be reinvested in the farm.
Every change and innovative idea has its challenges, usually because it is always hard to adapt to change. Farmers and farm workers are not alone in thinking ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’. Our PECA team understands that their work is not just about educating farm owners, but also farm administrations and even the supervisors and workers. To reinforce the efforts, PECA works closely with our quality team to provide physical and sensory feedback to farmers, allowing them to see the cause-and-effect of farm level changes. We also have an open-door policy, allowing farmers access to our cupping labs and to get hands-on experience, seeing all our quality control process. As farmers evolve their farm management, we also encourage them to get to know their coffee and how to analyze it and learn from it, not only to continue improving their processes but to become experts in the world of coffee.
The Focus Areas:
There are five areas that need to be taken into account when looking to improve farm processes in the long-term:
- 1) Soil
We focus not just on the soil of the farm in general, but on each plot of the farm, as each one can and often is different. We need to understand how each area will react to a fertilization plan and to see what particular needs arise.
2) Tree renovation
Traditionally, coffee farmers, especially small holders, have not integrated a pruning plan as it directly impacts yields and incomes in the short-term. However, if strategically managed, pruning can have a positive impact on long-term productivity. Recommendations are based on agronomical evaluation. Sometimes light pruning is not enough, and plants need to be stumped or renewed completely. However, this should be applied on a case-by-case basis and should not be applied to the entire farm. The key lies in how we help farmers move from selective pruning to cycle pruning or to complete plot renewal. Each plot needs to be treated according to cycle, variety, process, productivity and matureness.
Harvest and picking are a key area in terms of consistent cup quality. We put a strong focus on complying with a meticulous hand-picking process on each farm. For this, we carry out training programs to educate pickers and farmers as to when cherries have reached perfect ripeness levels, to maximize cup quality, a consistent profile and higher cherry to parchment yields.
Once cherries have been picked, the next steps are crucial to reap the reward of the effort carried out in the field. How coffee is fermented, washed, dried and stored needs to decided according to certain parameters to maximize the potential of the coffee. This will also set the foundation to achieve high quality on a replicable basis. This lays the base for producers to go the extra mile as they become experts in coffee processing, and this allows them to maximize their incomes with higher cup quality and better yields.
Last but not least, in terms of importance, is helping farmers understand, in full, their crop cycle as a whole and through every step of the process in terms of costs. This allows for an understanding of the breakdown of costs/investments required per plant and for the full crop. This also shows the breakeven point and can indicate areas of improvement and areas where costs can be reduced, leading to better profitability and resilience when prices fall.
We understand business is business, but Supply Chain Management has taught us that there must be an equilibrium and a win-win for every part of the supply chain, where efficiencies and costs are able to meet at a healthy point for all. Sharing best practices, working as a team, understanding the bottlenecks, building efficiencies and working on continuous improvements is key for all players in the coffee world.
With Caravela’s experience and expertise in the supply chain, we push forward and embrace the goal of being a strategic partner for both farmers and roasters, navigating the sea of constant changing trends that is the coffee industry. The best way to achieve results is by having transparent and honest conversations. On the one side with farmers regarding what they want to achieve on their farms: better quality? Increased productivity? Both? And on the other side, with our customers about what they want to achieve from these relationships. This allows us to play-to-win, as different buyers have different needs and market demands. Often, they can be either flexible on quality or volume to support farmers. By understanding how both sides of the chain want to play, we can mix-and-match and allocate opportunities to help both sides navigate in a safe zone that serves for all.
In Guatemala and El Salvador, the mix-and-match approach is aligned with our new range of ￼colectivos￼. For the 2019 harvest, we decided to keep our fixed price farm-gate prices that we had for the 2018 harvest, with the objective of removing the market price from the equation for farmers and to support them through thick and thin. It’s the chicken and egg game: we cannot hide behind the market if we want to continue fulfilling our promise of long-term sustainability. Even if our margin is sacrificed, we are betting on not just buying the best coffee but on building a sustainable supply chain. This is not just done by providing free PECA education, but also through providing sustainable prices that allow farmers to live decently and to reinvest in their processes.
This is also where our roaster partners fit-in to continue supporting the chain and to be active players. As Anthony Auger mentioned in a previous article, there are many different ways to secure quality, quantity and long last relationships.