The Lab

Nariño Micro Lots

By: Camilo Yubank & Liz Weaver

Nariño micro lots improve the lives of producers in Colombia, one bag at a time. Eleven years ago, Pedro Echavarria stumbled upon a new sustainable business model for his family’s business that has helped change the lives of small coffee producers throughout Colombia. 

Pedro Echavarria in Colombia

How it started:

Pedro was in the world of specialty coffee, even before starting the allied producer program selling Narino micro lots. The Echavarria family has a long history in coffee spanning 4 generations, but it was Pedro’s father that established their current business.  What started out as a small passion project eventually turned into his father’s full-time business, Santa Barbara Estate. 

After a brief hiatus in the late 1990s/early 2000s when they were physically disconnected from the farms due to the dangers in rural Colombia, they were eventually reconnected in 2004.  When Pedro moved back to Colombia in 2009 after attending university in the US, he knew he wanted to rejoin the family business. However, he didn’t know exactly what to do next.

Pedro and his father, Pedro at Santa Barbara Estate

The beginnings of Pergamino:

When Pedro returned to Colombia in 2009, the economic, political, and social conditions changed for the better. The violence generated by the drug cartels in Medellin was over. The peace process with guerilla was moving forward. At last many farmers returned to work on their land. Production of coffee in the country was recovering after a few difficult years of rust. And the prices in the International Coffee Market were at almost $2.00 as price base for Arabica Beans.

All these conditions gave Pedro and his family a signal to take the risk and pursue their dream of turning Santa Barbara Estate into a vertically integrated operation. They would produce, process, and export Specialty Coffee to high-end international markets. They reinvested the profits from 2 years of premium prices in improving infrastructure, new coffee trees, and a dry mill. In 2011, Santa Barbara exported their first container to Royal Coffee NY, with excellent success and acceptance among roasters. Eventually, this turned into a sustainable relationship that continues to this day.

After 3 years of operating their dry mill, they realized they had capacity to process more coffee than what Santa Barbara was producing. The drop in prices in the international market was also another threat to the sustainability of the dream. They also realized that many small producers of coffees face similar problems in the country but with fewer resources to deal with fluctuation of prices and cost increases.

Considering this, they started an allied producer program where they would source and export coffee from small producers. This connected them to the world of specialty coffee and had a direct, positive economic impact on the lives of producers in Colombia, one bag at a time.

Coffee cherries being picked at Santa Barbara Estate in Colombia

Details on the allied producer program:

Pergamino wanted to develop a long-term relationship and partnership with the producers. To attract the best producers, they needed to create a structure that motivated them to maintain quality year after year. Because of this, they created a two-level buying structure. They offer a premium for specialty grade coffees that scored 84 above the Specialty Coffee Association grading system and then a second premium for coffees exported as single-origin micro-lots.

The producers that hit the highest score receive two payments for their coffees. The additional benefit is that they can directly participate in the international market. It’s also a win for the other producers involved with the program because they receive a premium for their quality and the opportunity to catch an even higher premium if they want to improve their quality to the micro lot level on the next cycle.

Transparency and trust are the cornerstones of this alliance between Pergamino and the producers. Year after year they see more producers that want to participate in this program. For the past 7 years, Pergamino has returned after the harvest season finished to pay the extra premium to producers in an award ceremony. In this ceremony they recognize all the producers’ members of the alliance, celebrate the good year and bring hope and energy to continue delivering top quality in the next harvest.

Scenes from a Pergamino award ceremony

The impact this has on Colombia:

Historically speaking, many of Colombia’s political and economic problems are related to rural poverty. While specialty coffee might not change the entire country, it certainly has the power to transform entire communities.

With this program, Pergamino has veered away from a standard trade transaction. Instead, they have set out to build the most significant relationships possible with their allied producers. The impact of this program and these relationships is evident.

With each visit back to the regions, you can see a rural middle class growing thanks to specialty coffee. In each conversation with a producer at the premium ceremony, you see the improvements in their lives and businesses. Every year that passes, you can see the sustainable businesses that have been established, allowing small producers to have a completely different vision of their future in coffee.

The impact of specialty coffee on these producers in Colombia is a compelling story that can only be done with everyone in the chain – producers, exporters, importers, roasters, and customers. We thank the producers, Pergamino, for developing these transparent relationships. And we thank you for supporting, all making a significant impact on the lives of these producers in Colombia.

Shop these Nariño Micro Lots

HUMBERTO CORTEZ

Humberto and his wife, Ermensia have been in coffee since they were little, helping out on family farms until Humberto inherited part of his family´s farm.  He has been an allied producer since 2017 and is committed to improving his infrastructure and processing.

Shop allied producer Humberto Cortez’s Nariño micro lot

NECTARIO PASCUAZO

Don Nectario has been involved in the cultivation of coffee for more than 45 years. He previously was an agronomist at the National Federation of coffee growers, but he is currently in charge of his farm, Villa Vergel, working alongside his brothers. 

Shop allied producer Nectario Pascuazo’s Nariño micro lot

ESTEBAN DURANGO

After working as a picker on other farms for most of his life, five years ago Esteban Durango benefited from a government program for people displaced by violence.  He was given 1 hectare of land where he planted coffee and built his house.

Shop allied producer Esteban Durango’s Nariño micro lot

DAVID GOMEZ

David Gomez credits specialty coffee with saving his life and that of his children.  As with many others in the region, he has stories about growing poppy plants in the past until he eventually lost his father to the violence associated with the the drug trade.

Shop allied producer David Gomez’s Nariño micro lot

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