At 26 years old, Fabian Andres has inherited his father’s coffee farm in the town of San Pablo in Nariño, Colombia, where many smallholder farm communities have suffered from years of armed conflicts.
Andres is now locally helping lead a Fair Trade pilot initiative, and he was invited by FTUSA and the Specialty Coffee Association of America to attend the SCAA Event in Boston earlier this year. In the following Q&A with Griselda Barraza, Andres reflects on his time in Boston and shares some of the practical applications of the lessons learned there. The interview comes with permission from Coffee Gente, the personal blog of frequent DCN contributor and Fair Trade USA representative Miguel Zamora:
What were some of the most important things you learned during the SCAA show in Boston?
“Well, I have to say that I learned from the stories that the other farmers and workers told. Many of the stories touched my heart in a very deep way. I know there are small farmers and farm workers all over the world; I also know that many of them are struggling to make means happen. The story of my friend Leonardo from Nicaragua was pretty impressive. Leonardo is a coffee farm worker who decided to change his life and worked his way around any difficult situation. He works as a coffee picker all week long in the fields, and head out to the city to learn computers skills and English during the weekends. Leonardo taught me that just because I work in the fields I do not have to be disconnected from development and technology. Learning is available to whoever wants to take advantage of it. I might have to make some sacrifices along the way, but it will be worth it. Leonardo’s audacity has taught me a valuable lesson and it has helped me to re-evaluate my life.”
Has going to the SCAA show helped you in other ways?
“I can project myself better now. Before this event I didn’t know where I was heading. I knew I had to work and I was doing just that: working. I’m now projecting myself with goals in mind; knowingly that I’m capable of learning new things and I can bring that new knowledge to my community. I realize how many things move around coffee. I can learn all those new things and make my experience of being a coffee farmer more engaging and interesting. This experience has also helped me to get to know myself better; I can now reflect on my life as smallholder farmer, find what I like and dislike and work to improve those things that need to be improved. “
Have your shared your experience with other farmers from your region?
“I’ve shared my experiences with some of my neighbors and with the group of farmers which whom we have our monthly meetings. They were very happy to hear my experience, but they also expressed their desire to experience it on their own. I think that by sharing my experience with this group of farmers they are starting to focus and re-think their future. The coffee world is so big and it has so much to offer; it is not just about planting and harvesting coffee, but it goes beyond that. We can create new relationships that can last forever. Through the supply chain, farmers, importers, exporters and buyers, we can all share our processes and things we like or don’t like and what needs to be improved, such as flavors, quality etc. It’s a universal exchange of knowledge that benefits everyone in the chain. Even those who don’t work directly with coffee, but belong to a coffee community will see the benefits thru social projects. Everyone should be aware that all the benefits and all the knowledge we are acquiring comes from coffee.”
What do you envision for the future?
“I want to have a life project. I want to learn about every process within coffee. I want to learn new concepts. I want to be part of everything that relates to coffee from planting, cupping to distributing the coffee. All of it. I want to be a part of all of it. After I learn all I can learn, I want to bring that knowledge and share it with the farmers in my community. I want to start more community projects.”
What tools do you need to use to start working on this?
“For now I’m in the early stage. I’m learning, reading and informing myself. I’m working with a friend to learn the art of cupping. I need to teach my palate to identify flavors. Once I’m skilled in cupping, I will bring that new knowledge to my community. And once I am able to bring all this new knowledge to my community I know that peace will come to my land. Yes, peace. I believe that if I share my knowledge and make myself available to my community, peace will come. It has to start with me and others will follow. “
“There is this popular phenomenon in Colombia. Many of those who live in the lowest social stratus think that only the Mayor or the President in power would be able to provide them with a house. When I see this situation, I think that as a community we can get together and with the proceeds from our coffee we can generate our own resources. We can create community wealth that would allow us to create developmental programs, helping those in the community with the greatest need.”
“Whenever people hear that you work, they immediately associate that statement with “generating income”, but when you work for the community, you don’t necessarily create money, but you do create solid relationships within your community and that by itself creates peace.”
Do you have any suggestions for us? for future events?
Yes, let farmers and farm workers exhibit their projects in a deeper way so we can hear what projects they have worked on and learn from that. In Colombia the subsidy for poor families is too small, and people are dying of hunger. I will want to show you that my community will not die, because we’ll all be working hard and set the example that working together can indeed bring peace.