The Federación Campesina del Cauca (FCC) was founded in 1971. It is a not-for-profit, member-owned federation consisting of six coffee growing associations (currently over 600 individual members total) throughout various municipalities in the Department of Cauca, in the southwest of Colombia. The FCC helped its farmers improve coffee production, moving from low quality beans used in instant coffee to high quality coffee beans sold in specialty markets. It achieved a certified Fair Trade USA certification in 2004 in both conventional and organic production, with organic certification through BioTropico.
The FCC aims to operate in the most environmentally-friendly and socially equitable way in order to create a sustainable production system. This likely will not be the most cost-effective method, nor the simplest, but offers a sense of pride by “training ourselves without forgetting the wisdom of the elders, tilling the field with joy, persisting, insisting, resisting and not giving up” (Alejandro Leonidas, Founding Member).
Through continuous development of international relationships and further understanding of the production process, the FCC aims to transform the international coffee industry. By establishing committed relationships between buyers and sellers based on sustainability, responsibility, and honesty, their goal is to create a mutually-beneficial opportunity for growers and consumers alike.
This cohort of SMART will be working with the FCC in Cauca, Colombia by focusing on an evaluation of crop and soil status. The demand for soil analysis comes at a time when the cooperative is considering a transition to organic farming systems in order to become certified organic. The FCC, farmers, and other stakeholders have expressed the need for effective and low-cost monitoring metrics to make more informed decisions about their production regimes and farm management.
The research team will compare coffee crops which are grown using conventional methods against those which have already transitioned to organic methods in order to determine relative health of the crops and soil. Further, with the production of low-cost monitoring systems, the improvement of metrics for long-term evaluation would be more feasible. The goal of these analyses is to determine whether a transition to organic methods would be more beneficial for farmers, increase production or labor efficiency, or enhance beneficial soil qualities in a different way than the conventional methods. The analysis also aims to address the ramifications of such a transition.