No 31

Indigenous Worldview in Coffee Farming

August, 2016

What's behind Colombian Coffee

Indigenous Worldview in Coffee Farming

For indigenous peoples, coffee farming is not only a means of improving their quality of life; it is in close harmony with Nature and Earth, conceived as the mother of its own culture. And for them, coffee institutions also have benefits such as the purchase guarantee.

On August 9 we celebrated the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, aimed at commemorating these communities and raising awareness on joint solutions to problems of human rights, environment, education and health they face.

Although indigenous peoples are considered a minority, they represent most of the world’s cultural diversity. There are about 370 million indigenous people in 70 countries. In Latin America, there are over 800 indigenous peoples, with a population of about 45 million. In Colombia, according to the last census, they account for 3.04% of the whole population, i.e., about 1.4 million people.

Since the times of Conquest and Colony, land has been a permanent claim by these peoples, this relationship being a fundamental part of their identity and spirituality, besides being rooted to their culture and history. Their relationship goes beyond simple occupation of land: it extends to their worldviews.

In that sense, the indigenous struggle has revolved around recognition of their communities as holders of collective rights aimed to self-determination and ownership of lands. And to preserve their customs, certain groups have proposed society models known as good living.

According to a study conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in 2014, the construction of this good living refers to a close relationship between what a people was, is and will be; this includes the struggle for historical memory, respect for their territories, identity, language, food self-reliance and rights.


Indigenous Coffee Farming

The economic activity of groups is also an expression of this good living, which includes initiatives driven by the communities themselves, for example, tourism and coffee production, seeking to improve the quality of life of their families and create jobs. “Through coffee we seek ways to improve our living conditions,” says Claribeth Navarro, legal representative of Seynekun, an association of arhuaco people that produces coffee in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

In Colombia, indigenous people in some southern departments (Tolima, Huila, Nariño and Cauca), as well as in the north (La Guajira, Cesar and Magdalena), grow coffee. In Cauca, of 92,000 coffee-growing families, about 26,000 are indigenous, mostly of the Nasa community. In this department, the Coffee Growers Committee has a differential Extension Service with bilingual skills to understand the cultural differences and worldview of communities. In addition, they can share technical knowledge, contributing to reconstruction of social fabric. There are currently three extensionists with this profile in that region.



Pedro Chavaco is one of them. He comes from the Misak indigenous community, in the guambiano territory. He is a forestry engineer and has performed as extensionist for nearly two years. The communities he serves grow such varieties as Bourbon, Caturra and Castillo. They do not see coffee as an isolated crop, their practices being in accordance with laws of nature. “They seek to strengthen their economic systems, but the times to plant and harvest coffee revolve around Nature (including the phases of the Moon),” he tells.

The Earth is therefore conceived as the mother of their own culture, is part of their way of conceiving the world. There is a link between Earth and men, between land and communities. The indigenous world conceives itself as a whole, where the Earth is the source of life. Some communities work to harmonize their philosophies of life with their livelihood.



Mother Earth

“Coffee farming or property in the indigenous regions is collective, not individual. They produce without any chemical fertilization technique,” explains Luis Alberto Torres, an arhuaco founder of ASOPROCACIONES, an association bringing together 180 coffee-growing families from the communities of Karwa and Simonorwa, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Before, they badly sold coffee to traders, changing it for food. With the association, they changed the way of negotiating: they now sell coffee to cooperatives, benefiting from an immediate guaranteed purchase, quality premiums, bonuses and social investment. In other words, added value of the product is recognized. “Being organized enables us to access these benefits, which help us think about improving as a family,” says Claribeth, the leader of Seynekun, which means “Mother Earth” in native language.

Before creating the organization, they thought of a name that would really represent them. In their words, land is the only one that is fertile and thanks to it we have food. The same occurs with coffee, considered sacred by them. This coffee, produced between 1,400 and 1,800 masl, is the result of traditional production. It is the only social crop in which the whole family works or helps in some way: children, wives and grandmothers. In the area, they do not require collectors since the community does the work; they call this practice “mano vuelta” (shared hand, walking together from farm to farm to do this task).



At harvest time, between November and February, the bean is picked up giving thanks to Nature. Coffee grown by indigenous communities is connected to ancient wisdom and energy. “Before any cultivation, we need to honor the land so that it and the seeds are fertile, they develop and produce coffee. If we don’t do this spiritual work with the “mamos” (indigenous leaders), there is no permission to plant,” the leader says.

Coffee produced by different communities, with the support of the FNC, is exported to countries such as the United States, Japan and Switzerland, among others. The bet is also to harmonize the coffee business with indigenous peoples’ customs and beliefs.


You are invited to learn more about our coffee family and our products, visiting the COLOMBIAN COFFEE INSIDER sections on the top of this page.