Farm: Various Smallholder Farms
Varietal: Pache & Caturra
Processing: Fully washed & dried on raised beds in a solar
Altitude: 1,800+ metres above sea level
Owner: 3 smallholder members of UNEFECOOP
Town / City: Monterrico & Vira Vira
Region: San Ignacio, Cajamarca
Overall: Stewed fruits, cherry, brown sugar
Cuenca Botijas – Organic - Peru
This community lot was produced by four smallholder members of the COOAUNFE. All four members come from the small villages of Monterrico and Vira Vira in the highlands surrounding Peru’s La Coipa District. The area is characterised by its high, steep slopes, with the villages themselves being situated at 1,800+ metres above sea level. Many families here farm fresh water trout, as the cool weather lends itself to small scale fisheries of the sort.
Cuenca Botijas in Spanish translates roughly to ‘Pitchers River Basin’ – a reference to the fresh, clean water that runs off through the steep slopes in this high part of Northern Peru.
Formed in 2014, the Cooperativa Agraria ”Union Y Fe” La Coipa (The Agrarian Cooperative ‘Union and Faith’ in La Coipa) came into being with the purpose of helping smallholder farmers from one of Peru’s most impoverished districts to find sustainable markets for their coffee and improve their livelihoods. The (rather long) name derives from a combination of words that founding members found significant and that communicated the strength and ideals at the heart of the cooperative. In particular, ‘Union’ (Union) and ‘Fe’ (Faith) demonstrate their belief that collaborative action and perseverance are the keys to achieving a better life for coffee producers and their families.
The Cooperative was first created by 233 smallholder farmers, most of whom farm on fewer than 4 hectares of land in this, one of Peru’s premier coffee-producing regions. Today, the cooperative counts 220 producers as members. These small farmers work 738.5 hectares in total, of which 558.75 ha is under coffee. For such small scale farmers, working with Union y Fe makes all the difference: the coop supports them with pre-financing, technical assistance and coffee quality improvement programming, along with other social programs.
Quality has, above all, been a focus for the organisation, given the demands of the current market for exceptional coffees. Processing in Peru is rustic, in all cases. Fermentation is usually determined ‘complete’ when a wooden pole stands unassisted in the fermented mass of coffee. When drying coffee, moisture is monitored by either biting the parchment, assessing firmness, or by cutting a bean in half. In the latter case, if one half jumps away from the knife, its humidity is 14-15%; if both halves jump, then it’s below 12%. Even using these simple techniques, the group is producing some great coffee, however.
All members of the cooperative take strict care with regards to harvesting and processing, which also helps overcome the limitations of low technification. Coffee is selectively hand-harvested and is pulped on the same day at each individual producer’s small wet-mill. After fermenting for between 12 and 24 hours (depending on climate and altitude of each farm), the coffee is washed and then laid to dry on raised beds in solar dryers - for at least 10 days. Interestingly, while drying methods can vary across rural Peru, as of 2016 all cooperative members are required to use these solar dyers as a means to ensure better quality and to preserve the hard work cooperative members have put into their production up until that point.
The general manager of Union y Fe was the first person in the region to use a solar dryer, and he is a big believer in their ability to preserve quality in this humid climate. One issue with the dryers, of course, is that temperature can be difficult to control and coffee can sometimes dry too quickly. At higher elevations, however, the ambient temperature is kept cool and even. This was the case with most of the farms that Mercanta has visited, and temperature control is something that the coop is watching closely.
Organic coffee is key to the Cajamarca Province’s economy, and as such, COOAUNFE remains committed to the principles of organic agriculture. They are currently certified according to USA NOP standards and as of the 2015/16 season, the group has secured EU certification (partially at the assurance of a market through Mercanta), enabling them to market their coffee as organic in all EU countries.
The group is organised as a social enterprise, with market principles and quality margins at their heart. Enabling small producers to participate and compete on international markets for quality coffee is their primary mission. The group’s short-term goals include continuing to improve their coffee quality and steadily growing as an organisation so as to impact more producing families’ lives. In the long-term, they wish to be recognised at both national and international levels as notable producers of high-quality coffee. Working with Mercanta in order to bring their coffee both to the US and the EU markets is one step towards this goal.