No 29

‘Manos al Agua’ Promotes a Cultural Change in Care of Water in Colombia

March, 2016

Sustainability that Matters

‘Manos al Agua’ Promotes a Cultural Change in Care of Water in Colombia

Colombian coffee growers have sought for long a coffee farming environmentally more sustainable, but in situations such as the current El Niño event, the FNC’s large programs such as ‘Manos al Agua’ (Hands to Water) become more relevant.

With a significant investment of resources and a duration of five years (its planning started in 2013), “Manos al Agua” (Hands to Water) is not only the largest international cooperation program implemented by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), but perhaps the most important project of its kind in a coffee-producing country.

And in circumstances like the current one, with an intense El Niño event that has affected much of Colombia, including coffee regions at different levels, this program becomes more relevant.

As La Niña and El Niño events have shown, alternating periods of excess and lack of rainfall have hit productivity of coffee plantations, which in turn reduces incomes of coffee-growing families and accentuates social vulnerability while impacting supply of the bean.

As a sustainable, replicable model not only for the entire Colombian coffee farming, but for the whole country and even beyond, “Manos al Agua” implies a cultural change in care of water, with a focus on river basins.

This program helps face the challenges of water unbalance in the coffee sector and its value chain through better and more efficient water management, which, in turn, will translate into a greater resilience of the coffee sector to climate variability and hydric unbalance.

The program is been executed in 25 river basins (41,641 hectares in the rural area of 25 coffee-growing municipalities) in the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Cauca, Nariño and Valle de Cauca, but its impact, as of lessons learned, seeks to extend to all Colombian coffee regions (20 departments).

“Manos al Agua” is a public-private partnership, made up of the FNC, the Dutch cooperation agency, the private companies Nestlé and Nespresso, Cenicafé and the Wageningen University as scientific-academic partners, and the Colombian Government through the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation (APC-Colombia), for the implementation of an Integrated Water Resource Management System towards a climate-smart coffee farming in Colombia.

The program has five components with specific objectives, favoring:

  • Dialogue and intersectoral cooperation for care of water as everybody’s business.
  • The use of clean technologies and practices in coffee farms (training, environmental post-harvest processing, wastewater treatment).
  • The recovery and conservation of strategic water ecosystems (including forest and soil management & renovation of coffee plantations).
  • And the generation of knowledge (with the help of 25 hydro-climatic monitoring stations additional to those of the FNC’s Agro-Climatic Platform and which will issue early warnings to make responsible water decisions).



The program, whose actions are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), benefits directly 44,000 people (11,000 families) in 25 river basins, and indirectly, in the medium and long term, more than 550,000 coffee-growing families in Colombia, who will be able to capitalize the lessons learned in the project.

Within the framework of the program, 27 Community Participation Committees have already been trained, integrated by coffee growers themselves and inhabitants of the basins, seeking to strengthen their leadership, participation and management of good governance on water.

“Manos al Agua” is aligned with the FNC’s institutional gender equity policy and strengthens the staff training on this issue for implementation in the field. Of the work team made up of 74 professionals, 48% are women.

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