Making coffee a force for good means changing millions of lives for the better. To make sure that we have as much positive impact as possible at origin, we developed our unique Three Phase Program. We address the varying challenges of each farm individually, as every plantation differs in climate, growing techniques and production. We don’t presume to have all the answers but we can build relationships with local experts who do and offer investment where it’s needed most…
Phase 1 – Taste Tests
Once we’ve found a producer with enough land, experience and enthusiasm, we help them along the road to producing higher quality coffee. This means they put some land aside to grow a batch of beans and send the harvest to Pact HQ. We then carry out quality checks on the beans, testing moisture content and longevity before making recommendations to improve quality. These could include suggestions to dry the coffee slower, or pick the cherries when they are riper. They may seem like small changes but they can make a big difference to the Quality Scores and so the price the farmer can charge.
Phase 2 – Investment
This phase gives us the opportunity to make small technical investments of up to $1000 to help producers improve and streamline their practices. For example, thermometers and humidity meters are brought in to replace outdated methods, enabling producers to track basic data on the farm. Once producers are armed with consistent readouts, they know exactly what needs to be done to improve quality.
Phase 3 – Scaling Up
Once we’re confident a producer is growing a seriously good quality coffee, we help them to scale-up production. Finca El Cairo is a great example of how it works. Rather than waiting for the profits from the harvest to fund an increase in the size of their washing station and drying patio, we financed it. This loan was repaid over a year, interest-free. And in the meantime, we enabled Finca El Cairo to produce 150 sacks of specialty coffee annually, not just for us, but other coffee buyers who were willing to pay great prices for it.
The Three Phase Program in action
Marcus owns Fazenda Chapada. This small-ish farm produces some of the finest coffees in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, and Marcus is improving from harvest to harvest.
Marcus had been working his way up to growing specialty coffee and we’re proud to say he has achieved quality of which few farmers can boast. Back in 2014, our Head of Coffee, Will, met Marcus and saw potential in him and his farm. After a lengthy discussion, Marcus and Will decided to reinvest the money we pay above the Fairtrade price (always at least 25% more) into a new piece of equipment for his farm.* With advice from an independent agronomist, we found that a cherry sorting machine would be the greatest contribution. We financed the machine for Marcus, and left hoping to see the fruits of our investment in the next year’s harvest.
The cherry sorting machine allows Marcus to ensure that his coffee drying patios are all filled with more ripe cherries than over or under ripe ones. This means there’s a higher chance that more of the coffee will be of specialty quality. Moreover, Marcus now employs extra skilled employees to manage the machine, and he’s able to earn more income overall for the life of the machine!
When we returned to Chapada in July 2015 we were anxious, but our fears were completely misplaced. The coffee Marcus produced on his farm that year was some of the best coffee we tasted on the entire trip, beating much bigger and more developed farms hands down. Since this visit, we have bought coffee from Marcus every year. The quality of coffee from Chapada has made it a favourite amongst the Pact community and it will be back once again.
I met with Marcus this week, to chat about how this year’s harvest is going and to discuss the potential for next year’s crop. He has maintained complete traceability of coffee regarding both the variety grown and the area of the farm that the coffee has come from. This harvest, he has been running a three person team that work 18 hours a day and that hard work has led us to this point; where I was able to visit him and cup 15 samples from his farm. Marcus has been learning to cup over the last 12 months, so this year, he was able to join me.
We currently have other farms that are in the development stage of the Three Phase Program across Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala. I will be working with these producers over the coming months and will be sure to share how working with Pact helps to change their lives for the better. And, most importantly, ensures we have a sustainable supply of the top quality, great-tasting coffee our customers love.
By Will Corby
*The cost of the machine was $7500. The difference between the price Marcus wanted and the price we would pay was +$4500. Marcus wanted to improve his coffee and his farm for the long term so we financed the remaining $3000, in exchange for that value in coffee in the next harvests.