Colombia | Smallholder farmers

Cooagronevada gives Colombian farmers a sustainable push

12 March 2020 10:00

The Colombian Cooagronevada improves the standard of living of smallholder farmers in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. It does so by helping them increase production of coffee and cocoa, with a special focus on sustainability.

Two women dry cocoa beans

The 68 smallholder farmers united in the cooperative Cooagronevada live in difficult circumstances. They grow coffee beans in the inhospitable Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, where the climate is only suitable for a single harvest per year. “That’s only half of what coffee producers can harvest in the rest of the country”, says Sandra Palacios from Cooagronevada. “Moreover, climate change is making it ever more difficult for our members to make a living from their main source of income. Droughts are becoming more common, and the harvest season is shifting as a result.”

Water conservation and deforestation

How can these farmers earn as much income as possible under these circumstances? Cooagronevada is focusing on the production and sale of high-quality organic coffee. “Buyers are willing to pay a premium for that”, Sandra explains. The organization helps farmers to ensure their crops meet the buyers’ standards, with extra attention paid to sustainability. “All of the members are now fairtrade-certified. They receive advice on how to conserve water and prevent deforestation. And we have special programs to improve the position of women.” Through its efforts on the farmers’ behalf, Cooagronevada aims to prevent them from falling into poverty, migrating to the city, or turning to coca growing as an alternative.

Diversification through sustainability

In 2018, Cooagronevada dealt itself a new card: diversification of production. The farmers have begun growing and selling cocoa as well as coffee. Sandra: “Now they’re not entirely dependent on coffee production, they have better incomes, and they’ve added new jobs in the region.”

Rabo Foundation, which has supported Cooagronevada with work capital financing for the purchase and sale of coffee since 2013, believes in the power of diversification. In order to get the organization started in the cocoa business, Rabo Foundation works hand-in-hand with Progreso, an organization that implements technical assistance in the coffee and cocoa sectors. The company works together with Cooagronevada to improve the quality and production of the crop. Progreso also helps to find markets to sell the sustainably produced cocoa. Sandra: “With Progreso’s help, we now have a contract with a Chocolatemakers that will import and sell our cocoa in Europe aboard a CO2-neutral sailing ship. The support from Rabo Foundation and Progreso has truly made a difference for us.”

How Rabo Foundation adds value

"The working capital financing we’ve provided is vital for Cooagronevada. At the start of the harvest, we provide financing in local pesos. Once Cooagronevada has sold its members’ production, it pays the money back with interest. Other social lenders generally disburse loans in dollars, with a focus on export contracts. But Cooagronevada doesn’t export itself. We assume the risk ourselves in order to ensure the constant availability of working capital for the organization. We also strongly believe in the diversification into cocoa, so we gladly support Cooagronevada’s efforts in that area. That support combines everything: access to financing, to technical support and to a sales market. Because financing alone is useless without access to a sales market. And with our technical support, the farmers can actually produce higher-quality cocoa beans. At the moment, it’s still too early to say what impact the diversification with cocoa will have for the smallholder farmers. But we assume that their net monthly income will increase, and that they’ll eventually be less dependent on the price of coffee," Verena Kenngott-Smits, Program Manager Latin America at Rabo Foundation.

From bean to bar. Cooagrenavada came into contact with Chocolatemakers in Amsterdam through our knowledge partner Progreso. They turn the chocolate into the honest and delicious bar 'Pure love'. Make an impact by buying the fair chocolate. And read more about how we contribute to a fair sustainable value chain for smallholder farmers.