Colombia – Agustino Forest
While my introduction to Colombian coffee was perhaps unconventional, it will never be forgotten. Paragliding solo above the lush green canopy of native tree-shaded coffee farms of Bucaramanga and dodging frequent thunderstorms I made my decision to become a speciality coffee roaster and haven’t looked back…
Colombia is a large country with an established coffee industry spread over 17 regions, indeed it is the world’s third largest coffee producer after Brazil and Vietnam and is the worlds largest producer of Arabica coffee. The coffee producing areas and the farms of more than half a million different growers lie among the foothills of the Andes and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, where the climate is temperate with plenty of rainfall. It is widely acknowledged however that the country’s best coffees come from the south west in the regions of Huila, Tolima, Narino and Cauca.
We have chosen to work with a group of Huila farmers situated near San Augustin high in the Andean mountains where conditions are prefect for the production of fine Arabica coffee – good regular rainfall, rich fertile soils, an average altitudes of 1,700m and good shade that includes Orange, Bamboo, Eucalyptus, Inga and Avocado trees. The Agustino Forest coffee project was set up around 6 years ago with the aim of promoting high quality coffee growing to small holder communities as an alternative to producing crops for the illegal drugs trade. Initially involving just 104 families the project has proved very successful and has now expanded to include more than 1000 small holders all striving to produce coffee of outstanding quality.
The programme also has a strong focus on environmental conservation and requires members to have either shade trees on their plantation or an area set aside as a natural reserve. It is believed that responsible coffee production can off-set the effects of illicit drug production which took place in the area under guerrilla rule in the early 2000s. Coffee is grown on land surrounding the ancient forest and UNESCO world heritage site of San Augustin and the protection of this area is at the heart of the Agustino Forest programme. Farmers are given technical coffee training and funding for tree planting & local infrastructure improvements in return for a commitment to protect the local environment and ecosystems surrounding their farms.