The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC), founded in 1927, is a non-profit organization whose primary objective is to improve the quality life for the coffee grower families in the country. In the mid 1900s they created the 'Juan Valdez' trademark to promote 100% Colombian coffee worldwide. (Carlos S°nchez, with his faithful mule, Conchita, in our main picture, personified the archetypal Colombian coffee grower Juan Valdez around the world for nearly four decades, but recently hung up his straw hat).
The coffee growers democratically elect their local, regional and national representatives that run the Federation, which invests the funds obtained by the sale of the coffee to stabilise the internal coffee price, research improvements in productivity and to provide social and infrastructure improvements in the coffee-growing regions.
FNC began the freeze dried coffee factory in 1973 at Chinchina, in the centre of the so-called 'coffee axis', and nowadays exports to Europe, Japan, USA and Australia. One of the biggest plants of its type in the world, demand is so strong that it functions 24 hours per day. It utilises the most advanced technology available in a completely natural process using only water and 100% Colombian coffee to make the instant coffee.
As a direct result of the Federation's work, Colombian coffee today sells at a significant price premium on the international coffee market, providing a higher standard of living for the cafeteros .
Each cafetero is paid directly by the FNC, and just as important, they will always buy the farmer's coffee. However, the farmers are under no obligation to sell to the Federation, as it has no form of commercial monopoly. In fact, there are over 50 private shippers and 40 co-operatives operating in the Colombian coffee trade.
Jesuit missionaries first brought arabica coffee beans to Colombia in the 16th century. The volcanic soil of the Andes mountains, along with the mild temperatures and abundant rainfall provided ideal growing conditions, enabling the coffee plants to flourish.
Today, coffee trees are cultivated on small farms that spread over 900,000 hectares of mostly shaded mountainous areas, carefully tended by more than 500,000 independent coffee growers, known in Colombia as cafeteros, and their families. Colombian coffee grows at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 metres, accounting for the its well-known acidity.
Coffee is harvested throughout the year in Colombia, with a principal harvest between October and December in the main coffee regions, and a secondary harvest between April and May. Unique to Colombia, this production cycle ensures that there is a fresh supply of Colombian coffee available to roasters, distributors and consumers all year-round.
One of the most important responsibilities of the Federation to the coffee growers is the administration of the Coffee Fund. The Coffee Fund is supported directly by the growers and indirectly by consumers of Colombian Coffee with special contributions levied on coffee exports. Under Colombian legislation, resources derived from these contributions must be reinvested for the benefit of the coffee growers and development of the coffee industry. The Coffee Fund protects the growers by providing valuable income stabilization via the domestic minimum support price.
Extremely important also is the Coffee Fund's investment in social services, which have benefited more than 4 million people. Federation-funded social programs include, but are not limited to, the following areas:
Coffee funded programs have built over 6,000 schools with 17,000 classrooms, accommodating up to 360,000 children. In addition, it has constructed about 5,000 housing facilities for teachers. As a result, almost 80% of households in coffee-growing areas have access to a local primary school and levels of literacy in these regions significantly exceed the national average. (picture 4).
In the coffee growing regions, parents and children have access to improved health services. The Federation has built more than 180 clinics and 200 rural health centres and sponsors mass vaccination campaigns for children. Overall, there has been enormous success in disease prevention and an increase in the health of the Colombian people.
Electrification, Telephone and Waterworks
The re-investment program has brought electricity to over 200,000 rural homes, dramatically improved telephone systems, constructed community drainage systems and built 5,000 rural aqueducts. These improvements have greatly enhanced the quality of daily life for enormous numbers of families. (pictures 5 and 6)
The Federation's resources have constructed, maintained and paved over 7,000 miles of roadways and built 2,500 bridges, helping to facilitate transport of coffee to market and improving means of everyday transportation.
Whilst the Colombian Coffee Growers' Federation may look like a competent, alternative government or a big business with social sensibilities, it is still fundamentally an organisation of smallholder farmers. It remains a striking example of what farmers can achieve by working together and should be considered as a model for all aspiring growers' federations.
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