EL TIEMPO, September 16, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This story begins in the old Territorial Training and Reconciliation Space in Buenos Aires, Cauca Province, during one of the conversations among former FARC-EP guerrillas, after the conclusion of the longest armed conflict in the history of Latin America.
Uncertainty about the future gave rise to an idea that, months later, would show its first fruits in the foothills of the western mountain range: the coffee of hope.
Growing and processing the beans became a unifying factor among the people involved in the re-incorporation process, and in the campesino communities in the whole province of Cauca.
William, one of the first members, recalls: “It was in the middle of 2017, and every day we had new challenges with raw materials, dealers, packaging, and even once when we went to register the name and they told us that the trademark had already been registered to another company. We had to pull ourselves together in a matter of minutes and change it; from then on it would be called ‘Coffee Tastes Like Hope’. The truth is we like this name a lot more.”
The members of the coffee cooperative have aimed for an ideal from the beginning: offering a product of the highest quality.
To do that, William asserts that there are three key factors: The planting has to be at more than 1,650 meters above sea level; the procedure for picking and selection of the beans has to be carried out with great care; and finally, there has to be an optimal procedure for roasting.
Since the end of 2017, those who pushed the initiative have undertaken a tireless search for partners to become established commercially, and to offer opportunities to more former combatants and members of the community.
This opening has allowed interactions with the Cauca Governor’s Office, the Cauca Coffee Growers Committee, the National Federation of Coffee Growers, ASCAFE, PASO Colombia (Sustainable Peace for Colombia), and the International Migration Organization (OIM), along with organizations that accompany the peace process like the Normalization and Reincorporation Agency (ARN), the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, and the United Nations Development Program (PNUD).
By using these alliances, they have promoted their participation in provincial and national events.
The efforts by the former combatants, together with accompaniment by various organizations, have resulted in the production of a variety of coffee for export known as “Café del Común” (“Common Coffee”).
This trademark is remembered as a milestone that transformed re-incorporation in Colombia: the first signing of a commercial contract between former guerrillas and Illycaffe S.p.A., one of the largest coffee-producing conglomerates in the world.
Taking place in Popayán in the middle of 2018, it became a substantial stimulus in economic, technical, and commercial terms.
From that moment, one part of the production and selection of coffee beans at this first cooperative would join with the initiatives, to be exported and appreciated by taste buds all around the world.
With the objective of strengthening the process of transforming beans and roasting for local commercialization, the United Nations Verification Mission, together with the PNUD at the end of 2018, entrusted to the Coffee Tastes Like Hope cooperative a threshing machine, a grinder, and a selector tool as part of their support for Rapid Impact Projects.
Aside from the planting, since the middle of 2019 they have done trainings in roasting, sampling, and preparation of coffee.
To do that, they had the support of the National Apprenticeship Service of Colombia (SENA) and the Coffee Technological Park.
The continued training and provision of raw materials, added to the drive and dedication of the members, has permitted them to appear in commercial festivals all over this country.
The initial product has been transformed through the years into four varieties of Coffee Tastes Like Hope; each one of them depends on the type of roast and presentation of the beans.
This historic journey would not be complete without mentioning the award obtained by one of the initiatives emerging from the expansion of coffee production by the former combatants and the Cauca community. We are speaking of the “Spirit of Peace” variety, which received the “Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award” in October of 2019 in New York City.
The dedication to production by the former guerrillas and the community in Cauca was also honored for commitment to quality at the national level, with the prize “Heroes of the Coffee Industry” awarded by the National Federation of Coffee Growers.
This legacy has encouraged other former members of the FARC-EP to undertake projects together with the community to reinforce peace building and economic re-incorporation in their territories.
In the beginning of 2020, their fruits continued to be dormant in places like Tuluá, Valle del Cauca, where they roasted the first coffee bean in the multi-action cooperative “Los Comunes” (“The Commons”).
In the town (vereda) of Venus, in the rural part of Tuluá, victims of the armed conflict, together with the campesinos and people who were in the re-incorporation process, worked hand in hand for more than two years in the planting and processing of coffee, hoping to follow the footsteps of Coffee Tastes Like Hope.
That cooperative is supported by the UN Verification Mission, the PASO Colombia organization, the United Nations Development Program (PNUD), the Re-Incorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN), the Tuluá Mayor’s Office, and the Valle Governor’s Office.
The support for this mission
With the need to accelerate productive projects and small ventures by former combatants, the Agency for Re-Incorporation and Normalization (ARN), the FARC collective, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, and the United Nations Development Program (PNUD) have been working together for more than a year to support 47 economic undertakings, five of them by women. Twenty-four of them are in the Territorial Spaces for Training and Re-Incorporation (ETCR), and 23 of them are in new areas of collective re-incorporation.
The investment has been more or less one million dollars, with funding from the UN Department of Political Matters, and with contributions from France, the Low Countries, Norway, and Sweden.
Even though this tri-partite effort will not solve all the structural problems and challenges that the former combatants are confronting in their re-incorporation, they are a small support that provides a short run solution, while the institutional responses agreed upon in the Peace Agreement are being established. They constitute an important message for building confidence in the peace process.