Colombian Coffee Certifications: How Do They Benefit Producers?

Colombia is known as one of the leading coffee producers worldwide, ranking third in terms of production volume. Colombian coffee has the Café de Colombia brand and the Protected Designation of Origin (D.O.P) certification, both of which are internationally recognized. This distinction has led buyers to be willing to pay a higher price for Colombian coffee compared to other washed mild coffees. In 2022, this price difference reached 67.20 US cents per pound.

In order to access better markets and meet the demands of consumers seeking healthy and sustainable products, various certifications and verifications have been promoted in the country. These certifications require compliance with standards and involve actions and adaptations in the production systems, which can result in higher costs for coffee growers. Therefore, it is important to understand how these certifications benefit the producers.

Importance of certifications for small producers
According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), certifications and verifications are powerful tools for adding value, accessing rapidly growing market segments, and disseminating good agricultural, environmental, and social practices. In the case of Colombia, some of the promoted certifications and verifications include Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Organic Coffee, Bird Friendly, Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C), and private certifications such as Starbucks’ C.A.F.E. Practices and Nespresso’s AAA.

The greatest importance of these certifications lies in their function as a tool to access markets, as many buyers require certified products that meet their sustainability standards. Additionally, obtaining these certifications involves building a better structure for producer organizations and gaining more growth opportunities. The implicit standards for accessing certifications and verifications, such as good agricultural practices, facilitate farm organization and provide traceability elements that are essential for accessing other markets.

Access to certifications for producers
Implementing certification standards can be complex as it is based on internal management and control systems that require a certain level of training and understanding of the standards. In Colombia, it is common for producer groups to subcontract the implementation of the standards, and they often struggle to understand management and record-keeping aspects.

Furthermore, certifications require compliance with demanding guidelines, which can be costly and time-consuming for producer organizations. Certifications are framed in highly technical topics that require resources that are not always available to organizations. This has led to annual challenges in accessing certification renewals and the development of periodic strategies, taking into account the type of inspector and their knowledge of the territory’s contexts.

Cost-benefit of certifications for small producers
In the early years, certifications should be considered an investment for small producers. However, they subsequently allow access to premiums that are generally used to cover the costs of control systems and the certifications themselves. Additionally, when certifications are for groups of producers, this reduces expenses and guarantees almost permanent technical assistance. Well-structured organizations with good leaders experience an increase in their income over time.

The ultimate goal of certifications like Rainforest Alliance is to increase the producer’s income through better agricultural, social, and environmental practices while preserving natural resources. However, it is important to note that the price differentials related to certifications can vary depending on the international market context. During periods of low prices, these premiums are more significant and motivating for producers. However, in recent years, coffee prices in Colombia have significantly increased, making the premiums for certifications less attractive compared to conventional coffee.

Despite the challenges and costs associated, certifications and verifications in the coffee supply chain represent an opportunity for small producers in Colombia to develop capacities for better farm management and access new and potentially better markets. However, it requires willingness, commitment, responsibility, and resources to finance not only the cost of certifications but also internal control systems and necessary adaptations within the production units to meet the standards.

In summary, Colombian coffee certifications benefit producers by allowing them to access better markets, add value to their products, improve their agricultural and social practices, and receive technical assistance. However, they also entail costs and challenges that producers must consider.