Farm: Fazenda Agrovila
Varietal: Red Catuai
Altitude: 1,184 metres above sea level
Owner: Silvio Barbosa
Town / City: São Gotardo
Region: Cerrado Mineiro
Overall: Blackberry, brown sugar, buttery
Fazenda Agrovila - Brazil
Silvio Barbosa was born in his family’s farm in Tiros, Minas Gerais and lived and studied there until he was 10 years old. His background in coffee production started quite recently, as Silvio’s grandparents and parents previously were dairy cattle farmers. Growing up, the majority of his family’s income was generated through sales of milk and cheese. In 1990, striking out on his own, he bought a very small farm (3 hectares total) of mostly undeveloped land near the town of Agrovila.
Agrovila was a rural settlement project organized by São Gotardo prefecture in 1987. The Cerrado Mineiro has historically been underdeveloped compared to other parts of Minas Gerais. Agrovila followed the very successful PADAP program (initiated in the 1970s), which consisted of investments concentrated in a single continuous area, including technical assistance and privileged credit lines, with the aim of agricultural modernisation and economic development in the region. The Agrovila project saw a large area of land divided into more than 80 lots of 3 hectares each. Unlike the PADAP program, where lot sizes were substantial, Agrovila was about small-scale family farming for the most part.
Silvio purchased Lote 44 (Lot 44) as part of the project and planted it first under beans and cassava. During the coffee harvest season, he would supplement his income by working as a picker on nearby coffee farms. In 2011, Silvio decided to plant his own coffee, sowing cassava in between coffee rows, on 2.5 hectares. This lot from the 2017/18 season is his very first harvest.
Silvio’s coffee trees are entirely Red Catuaí, a variety chosen for its good cup quality and productivity. As a newbie to coffee production, he’s relied heavily on EMATER-MG (Minas Gerais State Company for Rural Technical Assistance and Extension) and private agricultural input shops to advise on inputs. These entities supply Silvio with fertilisation and phytosanitary recommendations, respectively. EMATER-MG assists with soil analysis and fertiliser recommendations, and whenever Silvio identifies any pests or diseases he asks for technical visits from the private companies he works with. When he has doubts about identifying coffee pests or diseases he consults with his neighbour, Mr. Rafael. Already he has improved a great deal as a farmer: in the beginning he used to use a manual sprayer to apply coffee treatments, and now he has a small tractor and implements that help him in crop conduction. The association of small coffee producers from São Gotardo region was created in 2017, and he expects that his involvement will improve technical assistance access even further.
Because of the small size of the farm, Silvio does most of the work on the farm himself. During the harvest period, he hires 10 individuals from the surrounding community to help him bring in the harvest. Passes are made every day, more or less, and harvesting is done manually using the stripping method.
Mr. Rafael, Silvio’s neighbour, also helps him to identify the best moment to begin harvesting coffee and has advised heavily on post-harvesting techniques. As the region’s harvest period occurs during the dry season, the aim is to harvest the majority of fruit at the ripe and overripe stages. At this point, some may even be partially dried. The coffee is then delivered to the drying patio, where it is placed on canvas tarps to avoid direct contact with soil. Every 3 days of harvest forms one lot of coffee. During the first days of a lot, the coffee is placed in thin layers to begin desiccation as quickly as possible. This very thin layer is turned at least 8 times a day. At around 2 pm each day, Silvio gathers the coffee and covers it for moisture homogenisation. Coffee is sun-dried throughout the entire drying process, and when humidity levels stablise after a couple of weeks, Silvio takes it to the coffee warehouse to ask for moisture level tests. If these are confirmed as optimal, he will deliver the coffee bagged for resting.
It is unusual for a farmer with such a small plot of land, producing his very first harvest for export, to sell to one of the world’s premier specialty importers and to have an awareness of where his coffee is headed. Silvio said that he feels fulfilled for being aware of his coffee destination and by learning his coffee’s potential.
When Silvio worked the harvest on other peoples’ farms, he used to wake up at 4 am to leave home in early morning to get to the fields. Now, farming his own coffee gives him a higher quality of life and more autonomy. He is also proud that he can provide other local community members with employment during harvest season. Silvio’s focus is producing specialty coffee to add more value to his product. With the extra money that he’s earning with the coffee export he’s buying a brand-new car - the first one in his life.
About Aequitas Exporters:
Aequitas Exporters is a huge part of the story of how Mercanta came to work with Fazenda Agrovila.
Aequitas is a family business owned by the Minami family, a Japanese-Brazilian family whose members were some of the first to farm coffee in the Cerrado Mineiro. The Minamis believe that volatility in pricing due to fluctuations in the market pose huge challenges to coffee production. Part of the problem is looking at coffee as a commodity rather than as a connection between people. For more than 40 years, their production was traded following the traditional path: Farmer > Cooperative > Middleman > Exporter > Importer > Roaster > Consumer.
In August 2015, this logic changed. A specialty coffee roaster and Q-grader cupped the Minami family’s coffee and gave it a score of 86 on the SCAA scale. The family could not believe it so they asked three other Q-graders to cup their coffee samples. They all provided similar results. At this point they realised the potential of the region’s coffee.
They started to sell their coffee directly to coffee shops in São Paulo and gained some insight into consumer preferences for high quality, specialty coffee. The experience was empowering and made them feel more confident that they could reach markets that valued coffee in a different way. In May 2016 they exported a container loaded with specialty coffee – with lots ranging from 82 to 87 points – to an importer in Europe.
After these achievements, the family started thinking: “Why not do the same for other producers in our region?” Aequitas Coffee Exporters was born. Today, 42 years after Nicolau Minami (the current owner of the company, along with his daughter Yuki and other children) arrived in the region, he finally has the opportunity to make a huge difference in the local and global coffee community.
Engaging fellow cooperative members in speciality coffee is part of the company’s mission, and investment in exploring quality potential plays a crucial role. For instance, from May to August of 2017 a group of producers from Coopadap including the Minamis received a consultation with Professor Flavio Borem and his team – experts in specialty coffee processing. During the harvest period, the producers listened to lectures and engaged in cupping sessions with the professor, who also visited farms to analyse the coffee’s potential and to give post-harvesting trainings. As a component of the assessment, the team also conducted stringent processing experiments. Ripe coffee was hand-picked from two different coffee plots, one of a red varietal and the other a yellow varietal. These were then taken to the co-op's experimental farm where the professor’s equipment was installed. The team processed the lots separately, using pulped natural and natural methods. The coffee started the drying process in raised beds and then was moved to the professor's lab at the Federal University of Lavras in order to continue drying. This guaranteed the best controlled conditions for drying and storage. In August 2017, Professor Borem presented the results and compared coffee sensorial analysis using SCA method according to the variables processing, varietal and altitude (below or above 1.100). The experiment was instructive for Cooperative members who are deciding which varietal planting they will undertake (taking into account altitude) and which processing method will result in expressing the coffee's highest cup potential.
Aequitas Coffee is 100% committed to transparency and equality. Equity is their core value, and the name of the company itself derives from the Latin word Aequitatis, or Equity. Aequitas was the Roman goddess of fair dealing and honest measure. The goal of the company is to connect coffee producers from the region of São Gotardo to the specialty coffee market and to create overall awareness amongst them of the choices they have rather than being reduced to a secondary link in the supply chain. Aequitas feels that producers deserve to be recognized and rewarded by the coffee community for the love and effort they dedicate in producing an outstanding coffee.