For years, Italian coffee giant illy has earned the reputation of a company that prioritizes people over profits. And while it sources its coffee from 25 countries around the globe, Columbia is the place where that philosophy is making a real difference. Ask Fernando, an ex-commander of the FARC paramilitary revolutionary movement that spent 50 years fighting the Columbian government. “When I was with the group, I began looking at the mountains and the coffee beans growing on them, and it gave me the motivation to change my life.” He managed to leave the movement a decade ago and with the backing of illy is now leading a cooperative made up of former guerrillas who produce more than 50,000 kilos of high-quality Arabica coffee each year which is shipped and roasted at illy’s facility in Trieste.
Companies like illy put producers in a better position to earn a decent living by changing the way that coffee is grown and sold – establishing standard growing practices to achieve the highest-quality yields, paying above fair value for beans, supporting independent family farms, teaching eco-friendly growing methods and helping t weave together the fabric of a nation torn by half a century of war.
One of the keys for changing the outlook for coffee growers is laying the foundation at an early age. Today there are 55 schools in rural areas that have adopted an “Escuela y Café” curriculum where students from 12 to 18 master the art of growing thanks to a holistic approach. All subjects – Spanish, social studies, math, science is tailored to teach them everything a successful farmer needs to know. It’s the kind of education that can enable them to bypass mere subsistence farming and build a better future for themselves and their families.
And to further the cause of peace 120 former FARC and other paramilitary commands undergo a three-month-long immersive introduction to coffee as a means of re-entering society. Several are barely past their teenage years, and while physical and psychological scars are evident, all expressed gratitude for the opportunity to live in peace.
This text is based on an article by Matt Adams in the September 2017 of Hemisphere Magazine (United Airlines)