By ANGELA PELAEZ
My journey through the labor issue started long time ago when I was a young woman helping my father in our coffee farm. During that time workers’ scarcity was not a big issue but poverty, invisibility and vulnerability have been a permanent menace for farmworkers.
Decades later I had the fortune to be part of the former SCAA Sustainability Council and confronting labor issues became my goal. 18 years in coffee later, I found myself in a small coffee town in Antioquia Colombia, in the middle of the harvest. The Sustainability Council had given me the task to perform a series of interviews with coffee pickers in order to understand better their situation with the ultimate goal of collecting information for our work.
That day will always be unforgettable. I went to the main square, the place where all pickers returned with their empty baskets, having emptied them after a hard day of work. They came walking with eagerness and my challenge was to have them open up to me. I managed to talk to many of them, from an old women (70s) mistreated by years of hard work, a man in his 50s who started picking coffee in his childhood and lives his life looking for the harvest period around the country from Nariño to Tolima up to Antioquia, and whose only asset is a motorcycle, and a young man (18) who makes me cry after hearing his story.
With tears in my eyes those stories make me realize that we must work to change the story, that those people have dreams, desires and fears like ours. That’s how our Farmworkers Aguadas project was born, with the challenge of creating well-being for workers.
RGC Coffee bet on that challenge and invited an amazing group of partners who decided to embark on this journey, among which are SCA, FTUSA, UTZ, and SOLIDARIDAD.
Today we have a project that benefits 240 workers and exercised its influence in 27 out of the 39 coffee villages in the municipality of Aguadas, Department of Caldas. The monitoring report for the first year of implementation is ready and its outcomes will be shared during the next Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle, WA, where all the people interested in coffee are invited to know more about the project: drivers for progress, limitations, results and lessons learned.
We truly believe that social inclusion is a must in the coffee industry and want to encourage more partners to invest in the future of people in coffee. What started for us as an idea to test mechanisms to improve well-being and attract a workforce to coffee farming, today is a permanent sustainable coffee program that hopes to inspire more organizations interested in workers’ well-being, increase the visibility of workers, and to motivate the industry to implement viable solutions globally.