The next generation are deserting the coffee farm for more stable, profitable occupations. They see their parents struggle on low coffee prices, and instead they turn to the cities. There are business opportunities there that their parents could only dream of.
But when the children of coffee farmers leave the farm, they rarely return. And for small family-run fincas, this is a threat to their future. According to David Piza and the SCAA, the average age of a coffee farmer is 56 years old.
Two years ago, a program was launched in Antioquia, Colombia: the Nueva Generación Cafetera (“New Coffee Generation”). The delosAndes Cooperativa are currently running it, and spokesperson Melissa Monslave agreed to speak to me about how it’s changing attitudes among the next generation.
What Needs to Change?
There’s no easy solution to generational replacement. It’s a complex issue that requires wide-ranging changes in production.
Melissa tells me that the cooperative’s main aim is to give young producers the knowledge and skills to appreciate their crop’s value. Currently many Antioquian producers drink store-bought instant coffee at home, and have never prepared the coffee they grow.
“We want them to learn how to roast and cup their own coffee so, when they say ‘my coffee is the best in the world’, they can say it with confidence, having actually tasted it properly.”
But she also knows it’s important to improve the quality of the coffee. In this way, producers will see an improvement in their income. In turn, farming will become more attractive. Melissa tells me that quality improvement comes from education, especially on processing methods, roasting, and cupping.
And the Nueva Generación Cafetera program believes that all this can be achieved with technology.
Can Technology Be The Solution?
The Nueva Generación Cafetera wants to leverage the younger generation’s understanding of technology and social media, and they have a three-part plan for achieving this:
- Integrate modern technology with generations-old growing practices.
- Create social networks for brand promotion and knowledge exchange between farmers and potential exporters and buyers.
- Educate future coffee producers about other parts of the supply chain and the coffee culture that exists in importing countries.
Melissa explains to me that technology isn’t just a way to appeal to the younger generation. It’s also key to better coffee quality and better incomes.
1. Tech-Savvy Growers
The coffee industry is constantly innovating. Apps can be used to record production data, which in turn can be used to optimize labor and improve coffee quality. Social media marketing can be used to find buyers for coffee, facilitating profitable direct trade.
However, a lack of access to education and technology stands in the way of coffee producers using these. That’s why the Nueva Generación Cafetera is taking a technology-focused approach.
2. Information Exchange & Brand Promotion
Technology also helps modernize communication between producers. With poor infrastructure and large distances between farms, coffee farming can be isolating work. Producers need a way to connect across regions, countries, and even continents – a way that the internet makes possible.
When producers communicate, an expansive archive of knowledge is created. They can provide feedback, innovate, and suggest solutions to each others’ problems.
“Right now, in Colombia, we don’t have a coffee school for producers,” Melissa tells me. “They learn from family and neighbors. We’ve noticed that producers are more likely to listen to each other than professional agronomists so it’s important to get them connected so they can exchange their knowledge.”
It also allows producers to connect directly to potential markets, meaning that they can create brands for their farms and demand for their coffees. The Nueva Generación Cafetera helps young farmers create Facebook and Instagram accounts for their farms.
3. Education on Consumer Culture
Coffee culture in producing countries can be very different from in importing countries. But once producers have these social media accounts, they can see how their beans are consumed in specialty shops.
“Most producers see being a barista as a boring job,” Melissa says. “They think it’s not important, just a person who pours the coffee and cleans the cups. We taught them that being a barista is cool. It’s a group of people that share a passion for coffee. It’s a social community that get together to appreciate and experience coffee.”
When producers see coffee as something that has status, they better understand the potential value in the product. They can negotiate with confidence and take pride in their coffee being consumed.
How Successful Is Nueva Generación Cafetera?
Educating young people on the profit potentials in the specialty coffee sector, cost-efficient growing and processing techniques, negotiation skills, and specialty consumption paints a picture of a dynamic profession. It’s one that’s more attractive to the next generation – one that suggests a living wage and an exciting future.
In just two years, the region has seen enthusiasm growing. Melissa feels it’s too early to count the program as a complete success. “We can see some attitudes changing but it is something you have to continue longer. I definitely think this is a good model that people all over the world can apply, and not just for coffee but all agricultural products.”
Her final thought, however, is a call to action. “There needs to be more involvement from buyers and importing countries, because the success of production relies on financial support.”
*Article originally published on Perfect Daily Grind