PROCESS & IMPACT
In 2016, Raw Material ran a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the construction of a community wet mill in Quindío, Colombia. This project will provide the region's farmers with greater control over their coffee quality, and control over their income through a fixed price payment system. Investment in this kind of accessible infrastructure is one of the necessary steps to make good on the promise of development through trade.
Worldwide, one of the clearest self-identified issues facing producers of coffee is the low and unpredictable price they can sell raw coffee for. A lack of control as to what the market price will be once the harvest is complete is disempowering. Occasionally the commodity market price falls below the cost of production. Across the last five years of coffee farming in Colombia we've seen multiple nationwide riots during seasons where this is the case.
One solution to low fluctuating price is the specialty coffee market. An increasing number of roasters want to buy distinct coffees for consistent prices based on quality, rather than where the commodity market price swings.
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Through the specialty market, farmers can better predict and control their income. Unfortunately, there are technological, social, and financial barriers for those who would benefit most. The solution to this in other regions around the world comes in the form of community wet mills. In many countries where we work, these central hubs are the norm. We aim to remove each of these obstacles to quality production, connection, and economic sustainability.
Processing coffee is complex and has a significant effect on the final product. Sorting, processing, and drying cherry at the new advanced facility provides far greater control over the resulting flavour; key in accessing the specialty market. At El Fénix continual experimentation and feedback from buyers drives quality up. As a meeting place for farmers from the region, information on best practices is readily accessible.
The usual situation sees producers taking out loans to fund the harvest and processing time. They receive an unpredictable market rate for dry parchment at the end of the season. Alternatively, we propose a two payment system:
1. The first price is fixed, paid for unprocessed cherry on the day it was picked. Income from this first instalment alone is predictable, sooner, and higher than the average Fairtrade price equivalent for parchment.
2. Upon export a second payment is made to producers. This is a premium agreed between the roaster and farmer based on the final quality.
El Fénix will be staffed by producers in the neighbourhood and roasters from overseas. The goal here is to have people from both ends of the value chain meet and learn the challenges and requirements of each other's situation. By cupping together and discussing coffee value an understanding can be built, and access to the market opens up. With this advanced community wet-mill, we can make good on the promise of development through trade by de-commoditising specialty coffee.