Our journey started in my homeland, Ecuador. We arrived in the capital Quito and from here we headed south to Loja, where the best arabica coffees are produced. The terrain is very mountainous and dramatic, which creates a lot of microclimates with altitudes ranging from 1000 to 2200 meter above sea level, ideal growing conditions for very unique coffees.
We have been dealing with a small cooperative for the past 6 years called Fapecafes. For the current season we are looking at selecting a few lots from them if the conditions allow it. The cooperative represents 4 primary producer organisations located in the towns of Palanda, Zumba, Quilanga and Espindola with around 1700 families directly involved in the production of organic coffee, most of them small holders with less than 2 ha of land.
It was a short visit but very productive. We cupped some of the first lots of the season and they were very promising and exciting, then we visited one of the most beautiful coffee producing areas, probably in the world, Vilcabamba the sacred valley also known as the longevity valley. Coffee growing conditions are excellent with very good soils and an average altitude around 1500m. We didn’t want to leave this place but we had already arranged to visit another producer group not far away from the border with Peru, in the town of Alamor. Here coffee is grown from 900m in a very abrupt terrain. Because of this, altitude is experienced in a very dramatic way, easily you move from 900 to 1500m just in one small farm.
From Alamor it took us just 2 hours to cross the border and continue our journey to northern Peru. The beauty of Ecuador was that we were able to travel to many places in a relatively short period of time as the distances are very short; now in Peru it is very common to travel for at least 8 hours usually to the main towns and another 3 hours to visit some of the producing areas. Indeed we arrived in Jaen, a city full of commercial activities related to coffee and rice. Here you will see that a lot of national and international companies have set their coffee mills and offices. In this city our supplier, Sol&Cafe runs a colleting point where all the coffee from their primary groups or associations located in the nearby areas is received and its quality is checked and evaluated before any payment is made for the coffee. Payment is made according to the quality of the beans received but the coop is bound to buy all the coffee that their primary groups deliver. This is one of the many benefits a member of Sol&Café receives; of course the lower grades are paid much less than the best qualities but there is a market for it, usually this coffee is for the local consumption. Because of this system it is possible to know all the details about every single farmer and what kind of quality they produce making the task of selecting unique coffees very simple. We have been working very closely with Sol&Café for the past 8 years to provide access and value added to the coffee produced by all its 56 primary groups mainly Fairtrade Organic and Rainforest certified. We were very excited last year when one of the coffees produced by a member of the coop ended up within the first 3 coffees in the national competition and within the top ten within the Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality. But of course, they know that there is still a lot of work to be done. We will be getting their coffees in the coming months as the season is just starting.
This year a good number of coffee producers are facing very tough conditions due to the attack of roya, which has become a common problem in most of the producing countries of Central and South America. In Ecuador and Peru roya has taking its toll already, affecting the output of the crop. This year a reduction of 30 to 40% of the crop is expected compared to the previous year. It is worth mentioning that most of the coffee produced by the coops we work with in Ecuador and Peru is organic which has its limitations in the availability of suitable products to combat roya. Producers have to heavily rely on the resilience of the system to face this disease.
Many producers have blamed climate change for what is happening but the fact is that many of the coffee plantations that have been badly affected by roya were old and not well managed without appropriate pruning and fertilization. Basically producers are experiencing the aftermath of very high prices recorded between 2010 and 2011 where there was an incentive to look after the coffee plantations. As coffee prices have come down many farmers couldn’t keep up with the running cost. But some the producers are putting lot of faith in the future, planting/replanting more coffee with varietals that offer some protection against roya. Of course, every strategy used in the fight against roya has its pros and cons, varietals like Catimor and Castilla have been reported to have a slightly inferior cup attributes than until now very common varietals like Caturra, Bourbon, Pache and Typica.
We hope the decisions made by the producers are the best and in any way we will continue offering our support to them.