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Community Milling in Colombia

The Central Mill in Jardín, Colombia

An international joint effort to create shared value in Jardín

In Colombia, the average size of a coffee farm is just 2 hectares. Despite the relatively small size of the farms, individual farmers have traditionally carried out their own milling and drying. The milling and drying process transforms the coffee cherries into coffee beans, ready to be exported for roasting. If it is not performed properly, this labour intensive and often inefficient process can damage the coffee cherries and negatively impact the quality of coffee and the environment, as well as farmer profitability.

In response to this and as part of its unique AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, Nespresso co-funded a new community coffee-processing centre in the coffee-growing region of Jardín in the department of Antioquia in 2010.

Joining Nespresso and the local community in the ambitious project was a consortium of partners including the FNC, Expocafé, Andes Coffee Cooperative, USAID, the non-profit development agency ACDI/VOCA and Cenicafé, the Colombian coffee research centre.

According to Paulo Barone, Green Coffee Sustainability Operations Manager at Nestlé Nespresso SA, “The central mill in Jardín is about increasing the volume of the highest quality coffee that is sold at higher premiums, and inte­grating infrastructures and processes that protect the environment. Through this project and the AAA Program, Nespresso has helped establish a virtuous circle of shared value and long-term sustainability.”

 

Green coffee after depulping at the mill

Innovative milling centre ensures increased volume and quality consistency of coffee

Before the community milling centre was built, coffee cherries in Jardín were processed on the farms, which often led to inconsistencies in coffee quality. The new central mill has enabled 170 coffee farmers to improve the consistency of their coffee quality and double their production volume of coffee matching the Nespresso quality and sustainable criteria as set out in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program. Consequently, they have been able to secure higher prices for their coffee and increase their net income by 17%, as well as dramatically reduce water consumption and ensure adequate water treatment.

This centre was innovative in the sense that it was designed according to the Nespresso sustainable quality requirements, such as integrating sun drying and installing a residual water treatment system. Quality traceability processes for cherry sorting, fermentation and drying were also realised as part of the project scope.

The site includes a wet mill, where the natural fermentation and washing process takes place, while 3,000 sq. metres of solar drying capacity helps to maintain the highest quality of the coffee. Sun-drying the cherries is indeed the best way to create the taste and aroma profiles required for Nespresso Grand Cru coffees. Studies developed by Technoserve have shown that the quality rejection rate of the coffee beans has fallen from nearly 50% before the new mill, to 0% today.

 

New water management infrastructure reduces environmental impact

The project also brings environmental benefits. The average smallholder uses around 25 litres of water to process one kilogram of coffee. At the central mill, only 11 litres of water are required to produce the same volume of coffee – a reduction of water usage by 63%.

In addition, wastewater generated by the mill is treated through a water treatment system, eliminating water pollution. The pulp left over from the milling is processed at the mill and distributed amongst the famers for them to use as compost. This prevents pollution of the natural environment and helps protect local ecosystems, while supporting the productivity of the farms.

 

Improved workflow generates social benefits

The milling and drying of the community’s coffee beans are now performed by dedicated personnel employed at the central mill. This provides cash flow benefits for farmers. Farmers are now paid upon delivery of their coffee cherries to the mill. In comparison, before the mill, they were receiving this payment up to eight days later. Farmers receive an immediate premium when they bring high quality AAA coffee. The mill is run by the cooperative and any profits it generates are shared among the farmers at the end of the season.

The mill saves farmers four or more hours a day during the harvest. This extra time can be used to spend more time managing their farm or to be with their families.Luis Alfonso, a coffee farmer in Jardín, explains: “I get up every day at five o’clock in the morning, milk the cows and take breakfast to my workers. Before, I used to have to work the full day up to five o’clock in the evening, but now I no longer process my own coffee cherries. They are delivered straight to the cooperative the day they are harvested and I have free time to grow my own vegetables and bananas.”

 

Plans for the future

The central mill is currently being extended to benefit additional farmers belonging to the AAA community in the Antioquia region and increase the volume of coffee that can be processed at the centre each year. Nespresso is already seeking to replicate the concept of community coffee processing in other regions of Colombia.

For more information about this project, read the factsheet Helping farmers share their workload.

     

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