The tale of El Fénix began back in December 2016 with the help of almost 400 Kickstarter backers worldwide. The goal was and remains the creation of a community wet mill located in Quindo, Colombia. Once complete, this project will provide the region's farmers with the possibility to have far greater control over their coffee quality, and income security through a fixed price payment system. We think that this kind of investment in accessible infrastructure is one of the steps required to make good on the promise of development through trade.
El Fénix farm is nestled at 1,680 - 1,800 metres above sea level near the town of Calarcá, in the department of Quindío, in Colombia. It faces west toward the Cauca Valley and the central mountain range. The farm has ideal climate conditions for coffee production, with a high sun reflection off of the valley, and an average rainfall 2.275 mm a year. The main harvest comes in from April to July, with a fly crop from November through December. Natural spring falls provide water for all the farm's needs. The soil is mainly volcanic, and in some areas, Red California worms are wriggling through and aerating the soil. All weeding is done by hand, and no herbicides have ever been used on the farm, enabling microbial and fungi activity to let loose!
Worldwide, one of the clearest self-identified issues facing producers of coffee is the low and unpredictable price they can sell raw coffee for. A lack of control as to what the market price will be once the harvest is complete is disempowering. Occasionally the commodity market price falls below the cost of production. Across the last five years of coffee farming in Colombia we've seen multiple nationwide riots during seasons where this is the case.
One solution to low fluctuating price is the specialty coffee market. An increasing number of roasters want to buy distinct coffees for consistent prices based on quality, rather than where the commodity market price swings.
Through the specialty market, farmers can better predict and control their income. Unfortunately, there are technological, social, and financial barriers for those who would benefit most. The solution to this in other regions around the world comes in the form of community wet mills. In many countries where we work, these central hubs are the norm. We aim to remove each of these obstacles to quality production, connection, and economic sustainability.
Processing coffee is complex and has a significant effect on the final product. Sorting, processing, and drying cherry at the new advanced facility provides far greater control over the resulting flavour; key in accessing the specialty market. At El Fénix continual experimentation and feedback from buyers drives quality up. As a meeting place for farmers from the region, information on best practices is readily accessible.
The usual situation sees producers taking out loans to fund the harvest and processing time. They receive an unpredictable market rate for dry parchment at the end of the season. Alternatively, we propose a two payment system:
1. The first price is fixed, paid for unprocessed cherry on the day it was picked. Income from this first installment alone is predictable, sooner, and higher than the average Fairtrade price equivalent for parchment.
2. Upon export a second payment is made to producers. This is a premium agreed between the roaster and farmer based on the final quality.