Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2018

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F O A M : N E W S + T R E N D S COLOMBIA'S CENICAFÉ DEBUTS STRATEGIES IN HELPING TO MINIMIZE HARVEST EXPENSES COFFEE FARMERS FACE MULTI- PLE CHALLENGES in the journey of bringing their product to fruition. They're at the whim of many factors outside of their control, including rain- fall, temperature variance, and the vol- atile market. At the research arm of the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) in Colombia, Cenicafé, scientists have looked into every facet of coffee production to develop strategies to help farmers control costs and increase production. Dr. Alvaro Gaitán, director of Cenicafé, says, "As the demand for coffee continues to grow, higher produc- tions are required, and therefore better effi ciency of the harvesting process." One of the biggest expenses farmers face on an ongoing basis is the cost of labor used in harvesting the crop. It alone represents almost 45 percent of production costs. Handpicking ripe coffee cherry into a basket—the traditional harvesting method—is slow and laborious. "Harvesting takes the largest proportion of production costs for Colombian farmers," says Dr. Gaitán, "and implementing mechanical means to pick up the cherries has been diffi cult because the growing conditions of the plants on slopes, the need to select only ripe fruits, and the uneven ripening of the fruits in the branches make this task very dependent on hand labor." Additionally, it requires many seasonal employees to work the farms. Supplies of labor have been dwindling, however, in rural areas of Colombia, as many younger people have left the countryside in search of work in the cities. "The migration [from the] country [to] the urban areas, where the new generations are fi nding jobs with higher remuneration, is both reducing the availability of rural workers and increasing their average age, resulting in a permanent diffi culty to get the required people on the critical periods of the harvest," explains Dr. Gaitán. With these considerations in mind, researchers at Cenicafé have created a harvesting strategy to help control costs while increasing yields. They propose using mechanical harvesters, which are handheld and look similar to a weed trimmer, with mechanical hands at the end of the machine that shake the coffee cherry off the tree onto the ground. Here's how it works: Prior to using the machine, a picker will lay long pieces of plastic mesh approximately 3 meters wide and 10–15 meters long on the soil beneath the trees, stretching the length of a row of coffee. The employee then works their way down the row with the machine, pulling cherry from the tree down onto the mesh. After they have completed the length of each row that has the mesh beneath it, the mesh is pulled up with all of the cherry on it. "There are two main challenges for the use of machines in coffee plantations in Colombia," says Dr. Gaitán. "First, the slopes of the Andean Mountains [are] present in most of the farms, and in some areas seem almost impossible to walk, even for experienced pickers. Second, the weather conditions during harvesting coincide with the rainy season in Colombia." The combination of using the mechanized picker and the mesh, though, creates a time- and cost-saving method for harvesting. Cenicafé's research shows that individual workers who have tried the technique have much higher effi ciency—doubling that of the tradition- al method. Additionally, coffee farmers see other benefi ts from using the new system, including freeing up workers for other tasks on the farm, and saving on infrastructure such as accommodation and dining facilities, which are typically required for hosting the large number of migratory laborers required in traditional harvesting. What's more, Cenicafé researchers found that this harvesting method actually helps control the coffee berry borer because at the end of the harvest less cherry remains on the ground where the pest thrives. Of course, challenges remain. A cultural change is required on farms using the new system, since for the best results, pickers need to work as teams to pick up the large and heavy meshes when they are full of fruit. Traditionally, pickers have worked individually and would be paid based on the weight of their personal haul. "The use of these practices makes the harvesting labor more effi cient, collecting more coffee per person per day," explains Dr. Gaitán. "This could alleviate the current lack of rural workers and help to reduce the costs of pro- duction, but at the same time, it should represent an opportunity for coffee pickers for a better income and improved conditions to work, making again the traditional work of harvesting coffee attractive." ÑKenneth R. Olson In an eff ort to streamline the coff ee-harvesting process, scientists at the National Federation of Coff ee Growers (FNC)'s research arm, Cenicafé, propose the use of handheld mechanical processors (they look like weed trimmers) to shake and pull the cherry from the trees onto plastic mesh on the ground below. PHOTO COURTESY OF FNC 25 www.baristamagazine.com

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