Last show of the SCAE, at Gothenburg, one of our producer partners asked me:
"Ángel, for you, what makes a coffee sustainable?"
A hard question to answer, isn’t it? Involved on the coffee buying of the company, from one side, and having been part of a family producing coffee for over a hundred years, on the other; these are the kind of questions that makes your nights sometimes, shorter. I can try to answer it, based on my experience, or based in my beliefs. Perhaps the best way to try to give an answer is by our actions. Today, Mid-July, I will try, with something we have done, to explain how we understand the sustainability and how do we ensure long term
, here at Belco.
We have just bought our yearly stock to one of our main producing partners. We previewed it together, and took the decision together, in terms of : Quantity, Quality & Price.
That means that the 3 elements suit us both well.
What is particular on this? That’s the way everybody makes business, right? Well, not exactly, if we consider that these coffees are going to be produced from December 2015 to February 2016. That means, delivered to us, from January to April 2016
. But that’s the way coffee is traded normally, some would say. Well, not exactly, if we considered that this is a buying of Estate coffees, and microlots
. Scoring at least, 84 points and up
. With a fixed price
(is good to know, that you can produce and you’re not going to lose money doing it, just for the stock market).
What are the benefits for both, to work on this way?
There are plenty, for both parts. We are sure, that we won’t miss any of his coffees
, in case of any major eventuality (rust leading to a small harvest, for example). That’s from our side. For the farmer, this will ensure him stability
and also will help him to have an organization for the harvest
, in terms of production, milling, and & export prevision. For his logistics, this is like heaven. This is something certainly extremely important for him, considering that agriculture is perhaps one of the most volatile & insecure sectors to work in.
You can get agricultural insurance, someone would say. That is something I learned was possible, when I arrive to Europe. In Latin America (and I guess I can also talk for Africa), is extremely difficult (or expensive), to have an agricultural insurance. Also, our contracts would certainly help him to get a loan from the bank. This money would be for him, to finance his harvest. This is not negligent for him, as we buy under a basis FOB (free on board), that means, that he will absorb all the costs of the picking (sometimes production, when we pay partially to give him a work capital), milling, conditioning and transport of the coffee, until the moment he would put it on the boat. Said simple, he would receive the money for his coffee once it is on its way to us; any previous cost is for his pocket.
Some have asked me, how can you be sure that you would get the qualities you’re looking for? How can you buy a coffee when is still a green cherry?
What about the quality?
Experience during these years; have made us create strong partnerships with producers being on the same path we are following, that of the quest for high & consistent quality. This experience, lead us to give them our trust to do it.
We do every contract subject to the approval of a sample.
However, this is a huge responsibility coming from us as for them. As it is to protect us from one side, saying it clear, that the quality will match our needs. Otherwise we won’t buy the coffee he agreed of being capable to produce. But on the other side, it would be extremely irresponsible from us, asking for a full container of 88+ coffees to a farmer we know is not on the capacity of doing it; or for example, asking for a lot of 50 bags of natural coffee, to a farmer in Central America who has never done this process before. It would be mean to refuse 50 bags of fermented coffee, to someone been asked to produce something he didn’t know how to do and who did it only on our demand.
We don’t go with our spoons every year, just to find only those 88+ & 90 coffees hide on a table
. As we are not one shot buyers, we are long term partners. This doesn’t mean that we don’t go with our spoons, we do go with them and we are sure to certify what we buy for roasters
. We are not Indiana Jones, even if we like to wear hats sometimes… and well, our spoons are not Jedi sable lasers neither :-p. Finally, this doesn’t mean that our coffees are not outstanding
; on the contrary, we give farmers the best conditions for them to produce outstanding coffees every year, and not, to be a miracle for them (as for us) when they happen to produce them.
This is for us, sustainability. And this, is leading us and our partners (farmers as roasters), a long term business. The only way for making a difference, we believe, is by being & doing different things.
And for you, what is sustainability?
Angel, for the Belco team