In 2002 Juan Pablo Echeverri, from Hacienda Venecia in Colombia, became the first UTZ certified coffee farmer in Colombia. Fluctuating prices and a worldwide coffee crisis had led to many farmers losing their livelihoods. Juan Pablo knew he had to take a new approach if he were to stay in business.
“When I took over the farm in the early 2000s, it was a challenge to believe in the product and the business,” says Juan Pablo. “But I believed that connecting to the end consumer, connecting to the market, would help us gain better prices and other benefits. UTZ was a mechanism that gave us the possibility of making coffee more sustainable.”
At that point, there were already a few different certification schemes on the market. Why choose UTZ?
“We chose UTZ because it was designed for coffee, because it had people [farmers and workers] high on the agenda. People are especially important in our industry as a lot of coffee is grown on very steep slopes, and therefore only people can harvest coffee, not machines. This was our initial motivation to join UTZ.”
The market connection, in tandem with the benefits it brings to workers, has had a positive
effect on Juan Pablo’s business. It’s an ongoing process: as some issues are addressed, others come to the fore. But Juan Pablo has no doubts that he made the right choice, and that’s it’s up to both producers and companies to ensure progress continues. Innovation is key.
So what does the future hold?
With coffee prices going down and climate change a threat, it is difficult for Juan Pablo to predict the future. One thing he has done on his farm is diversify into cocoa.
“We planted a hectare of cocoa, three different varieties, as a trial in case the coffee does not adapt well to climate change. It’s not yet certified but if we see that production goes well then it probably will be. At the same time we see potential in tourism on our finca and that’s something we are developing further.”
Juan Pablo concludes the conversation by saying:
“The value of connecting to the coffee origin is becoming crystal clear. When this connection is there, we can have a much more sound trade where value is given back to the area where the coffee is produced, and this value can be reinvested. UTZ made us stronger, and more connected to the world. Certification opens doors. It’s up to you whether to walk through these doors and keep them open or not.”
Join the UTZ coffee program today and see how your business can benefit.