Farmer Perspective | The Producer Experience at The Event

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by Miguel Zamora, director of coffee innovation and producer relations, Fair Trade USA

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Event is the premier coffee event of the year. It’s a rare opportunity for coffee professionals from all over the world to share their experiences, learn from one another, and work together to find solutions to some of coffee’s most pressing challenges. It’s also a unique space for buyers and producers to meet face-to-face, discuss the current harvest, identify new opportunities, and build stronger relationships. And, it’s a venue unprecedented in its ability to help farmers and workers realize their value in the industry, and to bring their voices to important discussions around the future of specialty coffee.

Each year, producer organizations (largely cooperatives) send representatives to the show, some of which represent up to 100,000 small-scale farmers. And each year, the number of producers in attendance increases, as does the overall richness of The Event itself.

Fair Trade USA began attending The Event in 1999. That year, we helped support eight small-scale coffee farmers from Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and a few other Central American countries, to come to The Event and tell their stories. In 2013, nearly 300 cooperative representatives were in attendance. And for the first time in SCAA history, we sponsored several coffee farm workers and independent smallholders to join the experience as well. It was a special moment when a coffee picker from Colombia stood up in front of hundreds of people, and explained that producers — co-ops, smallholders, and farm workers — are at the center of sustainability, and that it is absolutely critical that their perspectives be represented in both conversation and action within the specialty coffee industry.

For the farmers and workers who joined us in 2013, attending The Event was an unforgettable and invaluable learning experience. We recently asked a few of them to reflect on their time in Boston, and share how attending The Event has helped them not only as coffee producers, but also as community leaders.

Fabian Andres Mutis, a young smallholder coffee farmer from Nariño, Colombia, reflects: 

“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; knowing that I’m capable of learning new things and can bring that knowledge to my community. I realize now how many things move around coffee. I can learn it all and make my experience of being a coffee farmer more engaging and interesting.

“The coffee world is so big, and it has so much to offer; it is not just about planting and harvesting coffee — 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.”  

For Eliover Garcia, a coffee farm worker from Manizales, Colombia, The Event was life-changing, to say the least. His attendance and reflections also helped other farmers and industry participants learn more about the situation of coffee pickers across the globe:

“As farm workers, the only life we know is our daily journey to the coffee fields. We work from the crack of dawn to the afternoon. Many migrant workers travel the same road, the same journey, but in many ways have been forgotten. Farm workers have very minimum benefits or no benefits at all. [The Event] was the opportunity for me to let the coffee world know that migrant farm workers exist and that they are at the very bottom of the chain with limited benefits. Things need to change for us.”

Paola Sanchez is a smallholder coffee farmer from Cruz Alta, Lempira, Honduras. She attended The Event representing the farmers in her community.

“When they asked me if I wanted to go to The SCAA Event in Boston, I didn’t know what to say. I went to the top of the hill to ponder the idea of traveling. Sitting under a small coffee tree I said: ‘Can you imagine little coffee tree, how far you’ve taken me?’ And I just cried.

“The SCAA Event has helped me realize the importance of achieving a career. If I have a higher education I would be able to reach more people who need my help. My goal is to go to college in Santa Rosa and work on my B.A. in administration, even if I have to study only during the weekends.”

Not only has The Event become an increasingly important place for coffee professionals like Paola, Fabian, and Eliover to connect with the larger world of coffee, it’s also never been easier for them to do so. Over the years SCAA has launched a number of tools and programs to enhance the experience for Spanish speakers. Many presentations are translated into Spanish, and there are a number of volunteers to assist with translation throughout the show. These tools are a huge help to first-time attendees, but also to SCAA veterans — producers for whom The Event has become an annual pilgrimage.

In addition to the immense support and activities from SCAA, there are also a number of opportunities available to any Fair Trade producer. The most important is the Fair Trade Producer Forum, which occurs the day before the show. In this space, more than 300 producer representatives meet to discuss important issues in their supply chains. It’s also a time to interact with key coffee buyers, social lenders, and NGOs.

The SCAA Event is undoubtedly the best opportunity for coffee farmers to learn about the specialty coffee industry, and, for the specialty coffee industry learn to about coffee farmers. Any attendees interested in taking a deeper dive are highly encouraged to attend one of the many lectures on the role and value of the people behind coffee.

We all attend The Event because we love coffee, and for many, our livelihoods depend on it. That’s why the producer experience is not only important, but absolutely essential to what The Event has been and what it is becoming. Because where else can everyone throughout the complex supply chain that is coffee, including importers, roasters, baristas, producers, pickers, lending entities, non-profits, and market leaders, all come together under one roof to build the future of coffee together?

Additional Info: Spanish-speaking attendees are encouraged to visit the Spanish version of The Event website at scaaevent.org/espanol

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TODO SOBRE LA EXPO

¿Es su primera vez participando en el evento anual de SCAA?  Aquí le compartimos algunos consejos para que aproveche esta experiencia de la mejor manera:

Viaje y Hospedaje:

  • SCAA  y su agencia oficial ParAvion ya han trabajado con los hoteles locales  para poder ofrecerle las mejores tarifas y descuentos, así es que reserve su boleto de avión y hotel tan pronto como pueda: scaaevent.org.travel

Para promocionar su café:

  • Estudie cómo promocionar su café de la mejor manera.  ¿Qué hace a su café diferente? ¿Qué tiene su finca o comunidad que pudiera ser diferente e interesante para los compradores?
  • Tenga información detallada sobre su finca, asociación o cooperativa lista para compartir. Tenga información sobre las condiciones de producción de su finca o región: variedades que siembra, altura de producción, características del café, características de la comunidad, proyectos que desarrollan, etc.
  • Investigue sobre tostadores y cafeterías que trabajen en la ciudad donde se realizará la feria.  Trate de contactarlos con anticipación y trate de asegurar visitas a sus instalaciones para que pueda aprender sobre ellos y enseñarles sobre su finca o comunidad también. SCAA estará organizando varios tours a cafeterías locales. Asegúrese de visitar la página web del evento para poder obtener más información.
  • Programe reuniones con sus compradores con mucha anticipación.

Experiencias educativas:

  • La feria ofrece presentaciones con traducción al español que son importantes para los productores. El Consejo de Sostenibilidad de SCAA ofrece presentaciones sobre temas como la evaluación de impacto en países productores.  Revise el programa educativo con anticipación y programe a qué presentaciones va a asistir.
  • El foro de productores de Comercio Justo de Fair Trade USA es una excelente oportunidad de compartir con productores de otros países y compradores interesados en conocer más sobre la realidad de los productores de café.  Este foro ocurre los jueves antes de la feria. Para participar en el foro de productores Comercio Justo por favor comunique su interés a scaa@fairtradeusa.org.
  • El Consejo de Sostenibilidad de la SCAA otorga su premio de sostenibilidad todos los años.  Asista a la presentación del premio durante la feria para aprender más sobre las tendencias en sostenibilidad y quizás usted pueda aplicar para este premio el próximo año.

Durante la feria

  • Visite los diferentes stands en la feria y trate de conocer a importadores y tostadores.  Trate de aprender de ellos (qué tipo de café compran, de qué regiones, qué buscan en una relación con sus proveedores de café).
  • Al igual, trate de educarlos a ellos también.  Recuerde que la participación suya como productor es fundamental en la industria.  Muchos de los compradores no tienen mucha información sobre costos de producción, o sobre los desafíos que los productores enfrentan cada año.  Recuerde que usted trae a esta feria tanto como usted se llevará de conocimientos.  Al compartir sus conocimientos y su realidad, usted ayudará a construir una industria de cafés especiales más sostenible.

Después de la feria:

  • Comuníquese con  las personas que conoció recordándoles sobre sus conversaciones y las oportunidades que identificaron juntos.
  • Muy posiblemente usted verá a varias de estas personas en otros eventos o visitas durante los próximos meses o años.  El hecho de haberse encontrado o conocido en la feria ayudará a construir una relación a largo plazo.

Les comparto que hace un par de semanas me encontré en Colombia con un productor de café que conocí en la feria en el 2006.  Aún después de 7 años los dos recordamos aquella feria y la conversación que tuvimos.  En este tiempo hemos podido colaborar y crear una relación que ha beneficiado a su grupo de productores.  Este es el potencial de la feria de SCAA: crear relaciones en la industria que siguen creciendo con los años. Únase a nosotros éste próximo mes de Abril y ayúdenos a construir una industria de cafés especiales más sostenible y justa.

Información Adicional: Visite la página scaaevent.org/travel para obtener todo los detalles de cómo planear su viaje a Seattle.

zamoraMiguel Zamora is the director of coffee innovation and producer relations at Fair Trade USA. He has been involved in agriculture for almost 20 years. His current work focuses on strengthening supply chains and creating opportunities between North American buyers and coffee-growing communities around the world. He is also working to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to farm workers and independent smallholder farmers in coffee, while also growing the market for the Fair Trade cooperative sector. Miguel blogs about his work with smallholder coffee farmers and farm workers at coffeegente.com

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