Colombia | Coffee Grows Better After Guerrillas Leave

Turning old violent areas into competitive coffee producers still faces some obstacles.

Colombia, the world’s third-largest coffee producer after Brazil and Vietnam, is planning to gradually increase its annual harvest in order to reach 17 million 60-kg bags in 2030.

This project involves the renovation of coffee trees, using three rust-resistant varieties, in 10% of the total area planted each year. This could raise productivity from the current average of 18.7 bags per hectare to 22 bags per hectare. But the program also has a social component: to rescue coffee production in areas that had been dominated by guerrillas before the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“In some violent zones, production has been severely reduced during the last decades; and the coffee trees are very old. We cannot expect a huge improvement of production there, but our work with the local producers can result in a better economic and social environment in these areas,” Roberto Vélez, CEO of the Colombian Coffee Federation, tells Global Finance.

Despite the fact that coffee production in Colombia is traditionally a domestic activity, with no foreign companies directly involved in crop production, some international customers are joining forces with the federation and the government to develop coffee cultivation in these sensitive areas. Nestlé Nespresso, for example, has announced that this year it will increase its purchases of Colombian coffee harvested in old conflict areas by five times the level of 2016.

Nespresso is using these specific beans in a new line of capsules launched in early 2017 under the brand name Aurora de la Paz (“Dawn of Peace” in English). The company is also investing $50 million to implement sustainability and production programs on old farms in the department of Caquetá, one of the regions most devastated by the guerrillas and paramilitary groups.

The challenge of turning these old violent areas into competitive coffee producers still faces some obstacles. The 2016 peace agreement between the government and FARC is being implemented with difficulty in Caquetá because of the presence of dissident guerrilla groups.