WHERE THE FUTURE OF COFFEE GROWS
Ana-Maria Zapata Palazzio, 25, started off as a coffee picker. She bought a piece of land with the money she made – and today, her farms spread over almost 15 acres.
– The coffee farms are my life, says Ana-Maria Zapata Palazzio.
After several hours in a car along climbing serpentine roads, you cannot drive any further up. Martin Löfberg – fourth generation in the family business Löfbergs – and his employees park the car and look out over the emerald green hills and the valley where the fog of the night is still lingering. They are almost 4,000 feet above sea level in north-western Colombia, south of the country's second largest city Medellín.
An hour-long hike along brushy and steep paths is awaiting. After the hike, they are finally at Ana-Maria’s. She lives together with her husband in a neat little house in the centre of the couple's 15 acres of coffee plantation – almost the size of six football fields – 5,500 feet above sea level. The couple's terrace is painted in red and yellow. It is framed by roses and other flowers, palms and climbing plants – and a breath-taking view. Ana-Maria's mother lives in the house next door. Walking or riding a horse or a mule are the only ways to get to the family.
Ana-Maria has been awake since four o'clock, when she gets up and does her chores before going out to the plantation. She works to seven or eight at night. The family also has horses and rabbits. Receiving a visit from the far-away country of Sweden, where we drink her coffee, and getting to meet Martin Löfberg, whose coffee company has supported her for many years, is big – and she greets him with open arms and tears of joy.
And naturally she brews her own coffee: a strong and pretty thick beverage that is served out on the terrace with a lot of sugar.
– I have never met anyone from your part of the world that buys my coffee beans before. You have changed my life for all time, she says.
In her early teens, Ana-Maria began working on a coffee plantation, just as her mother always had done. She bought her first piece of land eight years ago when she was 17 with the money she made.
– We saw that this was a productive area. My husband and I started working here and saving money. With help from the cooperative and bank loans, we could finally buy more land. That is how it all began.
Today, the plantation’s productivity is 18 bags of 70 kilos with coffee beans in a year. Ana-Maria sells most of it to the Fairtrade cooperative Antioquia that she is a member of, together with about 11,000 other farmers. The Swedish coffee company Löfbergs regularly purchases beans from the cooperative.
Ana-Maria's farm is Fairtrade certified thanks to the membership, which gives her several advantages. She is, for example, guaranteed a minimum price – a kind of insurance when the world market price is lower than the production costs – as well as a bonus.
– They help us with nutrition for the plantation, we get discounts, protection and insurances.
Ana-Maria is also a participant in the Löfbergs program for young coffee farmers: Next Generation Coffee. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Löfbergs is involved in a development project for the future coffee farmers in Colombia through Young Coffee Entrepreneurs.
Löfbergs also cooperates with FNC, the national organization for the country's coffee farmers.
– We are working to strengthen the young farmers' knowledge about entrepreneurship, productivity and sustainable farming methods for coffee and in that way securing their opportunities to make a living on farming. Coming here to see how Ana-Maria's plantation develops is an incredibly powerful and instructive experience. She is a true entrepreneur with an immense driving force and long-term thinking, and it produces results.
Ana-Maria has a mentor that she contacts almost every week; she has gotten new kinds of coffee plants that are hardier, and she has learned to make analyses to improve the soil. She sees concrete results every year: Her trees bear more and better coffee beans.
– The coffee plantation is my life. My business is helping me forward. The dream is to expand and give work to others. Being a coffee farmer – it is something I have inside of me, she says.
How are you noticing the climate change?
– It affects us a lot. If it is too hot, the flowers dry up. That is what happened last year, and we lost a lot of coffee. If it is too cold, it also affects us. It is always a bit difficult for us.
What have you learned from the program for young coffee farmers?
– I have learned how to survive and cooperate. We grow each day. We cooperate. The new little trees and the fertilizers we got were of great help.
Which is your most important task?
– Producing the best coffee quality.
Ana-Maria is three months pregnant and already talks about her child as a future coffee farmer:
– I hope it will be a successful coffee farmer, she says with a smile. We have come a long way – I am happy, and I hope that my child will like coffee too.