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Last October, our dear friend Andrea Bedoya, design researcher with a special interest in sustainable food systems who collaborates with the Hilo network, visited Colombia. We thought it would be the perfect opportunity to check how the Giraldo family has been doing after the first months of partnership with Hilo. After a tour of the farm, Andrea sat down with Don Andrés, Doña Alicia, and Robinson to have a talk about their experience so far. Patricia, leader of the education project ‘Jardín Municipio Lector”, also joined the group.

These are the highlights of the conversation, which happened to the background of cumbia music and accompanied by a warm cup of coffee sweetened with panela (raw sugar), a tradition in the rural areas. In Andrea’s words, “a real Colombian experience” – even for a Colombian.

Expectations about Hilo

Doña Alicia has a very practical approach. “We have a lot of hope. We expect that after being exploited for so long, we will finally get recognition for our hard work. Because until now, coffee has only given us work. A lot of it, and very little reward.” “It damages my nails!” Don Andrés complements with his great sense of humour, laughing.

Doña Alicia continues her analysis of the situation in a serious tone. “Everything that comes from the field has a very low pay in Colombia. Because we don’t own anything! For you to understand: if you go to a shop to buy a pair of jeans, the owner of the shop sets the price, and that’s the price you have to pay. But in our case, we cannot set the price for the product of our work. And it’s the same for all other crops: tomatoes, avocados, plantains… everything, it’s like we don’t own it. I cannot tell the buyer ‘Hey, this is what my work is worth, so I’m going to sell my avocado for this price.’ No, the price is what they want to pay for it. And what can we do? We need the money; we have to sell the product for the price that they are paying. We have no choice.”

The monthly income

The monthly income is one of the innovations of Hilo’s system for coffee trade. Instead of a single payment on the delivery of the coffee, the family receives an initial payment to cover costs of production and subsequent monthly payments that constitute a living income for the family. This is a big change for the farmers, and we also wanted to know their opinions on it.
First Doña Alicia explained the current situation, how they have been doing it in the conventional system. “The cooperative pays us for the amount we have. If we have 20 loads, they pay us for the load at the current price. They also have a system of selling futures. For example, they say they will buy all our coffee for a certain price, and we are obligated to sell them our loads at the agreed price, even if the current market price were higher.

She then proposes an alternative. “For me, a better way would be: they give us the money in April, when we are preparing the harvest, and we deliver the coffee in November, when it is harvested. This could be a possibility of future sales. But because of the price changes, it’s like a bet. If I sell the load for 800,000 now, and it’s worth 1,000,000 in November, how much money do I lose?” This is one of the things Hilo aims to improve. A price calculated not in the base of international prices, but on the actual costs and needs for a dignified life for the producers.

Robinson has more of a quiet personality. He is the one who takes care of the administrative and financial processes for the family; he is responsible for the bank account, which is something that has only recently been established since Hilo came into the picture. He says: “The monthly payments are going well, we are receiving it on time. In the beginning, it took longer, we had to wait for the bank… but now it’s on time, every month on the 22nd, we have the money. It works well.”

When asked if he would make any changes or improvements to the system, Robinson says “In the beginning, we need money to pay the workers. For now, we have only sold a small amount of coffee to Hilo so that they can test their value chain. We would need several sales like this, or maybe one large one, in order to have a good income. Based on that, I feel like the initial payment is a bit low. Even if the monthly payments are a bit lower afterwards, it would be better to have a higher initial payment.” These are insights for us in Hilo, and certainly points we will consider to improve our system. For more detailed information on this topic, check out our the blog entry “Hilo Transparency Report”.

But recently Robinson also experienced one direct benefit of the monthly income. He hurt his foot, and could not work for a couple of weeks. In the conventional scenario, no work would mean no income. With Hilo, he could count on some economic security.

Conclusions

Robinson also talked about the organization of the supply chain. He explains, “I cannot store the coffee here until you tell me you need it, right? What if when you need it, I don’t have the quantity at that moment? I need to plan with some time ahead, at least 2 months. For example, if you tell me now that you will need coffee, I would have it ready for January or February. I don’t have space to dry it all at once, and also, for now, we don’t have a place to store it.” To secure the demand for the whole Giraldo family harvest, we are running this crowdfunding campaign, so they can plan the deliveries ahead. That’s why your participation is so important!

Robinson complements: “It would be great for us to have many sales per year or larger sales… until eventually, we can sell all the harvest knowing that we will receive that money. That would be our dream.” And Don Andrés concludes, now serious and to the point: “We want to be treated with honor. This means that we send good coffee, receive a good payment, and that we can work with trust.”

We hope to visit the Giraldo family again soon to continue this conversation, and with your participation, bring them the good news about Hilo.

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