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How Direct Trade Begins


Colombia Nariño Borderlands – A Closer Look

We casually talk about Direct Trade on a regular basis, probably since it embodies just about everything we do here at Stumptown Coffee Roasters. The one question folks ask that we’ve never really addressed is how does Direct Trade begin? Like so many things, the answer can be a bit complex since each country has nuances that affect the way we purchase coffee and each farm or washing station has unique goals, needs and challenges. And yet, each relationship rests on a few basic tenets: improving coffee quality, incentive based rewards to the farmer and transparency of the supply chain.

We’ve just embarked on a journey that marks what we hope are the first few steps for a long-lasting Direct Trade relationship and we want to share the experience. We’d like to introduce Colombia Nariño Borderlands. This is a cool opportunity to hop in and examine the relationship at the inception.borderlands-(2)


This year’s harvest is the first from the Nariño Borderlands Coffee Project, started by Catholic Relief Services. The project began in 2013 as a way to empower local farmers, encourage quality coffee cultivation and improve livelihoods in the Nariño Department based on new relationships built upon mutual commitment to quality. CRS plans to research the impact of Direct Trade on a farming community with empirical data collected over a period of years.borderlands-(3)borderlands-(5)

CRS invited six leading US roasters and importers to work with the project. The project has begun by providing the opportunity for buyers to pay premiums for high quality coffee. The price incentives will encourage community members to take the risk to focus on quality. The participating farmers will regularly complete extensive surveys on everything from schooling and occupation of family members, to healthcare access, diet and non-coffee crops cultivated – not to mention the very detailed questions about coffee cultivation. The project seeks hard numbers on the impact of Direct Trade and price premiums on the livelihood of farmers and the surrounding community.


The Nariño Borderlands project began by helping to establish a new farmer organization. In the next stage, the project will build the first farmer-managed washing station in Nariño. Over the next two years, they plan to install a second centralized washing station which will purchase and process cherry.

Historically, coffee from this area was sold as a bulked lot at a baseline price, which prevented any traceability to individual farmers or incentives for quality. This year, some of the more established farms in the area received premiums to begin establishing the correlation between quality and incentives. Next year, when the first washing station is built, we hope to see more participants in the wet mills. Cupping at the washing stations will encourage a greater understanding of cup quality. The project employs agronomists and technicians who will assist with education and other support in the field. They will design the washing stations and select the best spots to build them.borderlands-(7)


Currently, farmers deliver parchment for payment. Payment for cherry is inevitably cheaper than for parchment since the cherry still needs to be processed. One of the challenges of this project will be to communicate how much time, energy and resources the farmers will save by delivering cherry for sale, rather than processing the coffee themselves. They will then be able to invest their extra time, energy and resources into cultivating high quality coffee on their farms.

Like the beginning of any relationship, this is an exciting time. We all get to know each other. We know they have the materials and passion to grow and process great coffee. They know we have years of experience working with farmers and the determination and incentive to build a lasting relationship along with the ability to pay more for great coffee. We look forward to the outcome of this exciting project.