As part of Royal Coffee’s continued series of interviews with coffee producers, I am pleased to introduce Arlex Olave, a coffee producer from Colombia who recently sold coffee to Royal Coffee for the first time.
Please introduce yourself and provide a brief description of your work as a coffee producer.
My name is Arlex Olave and I am a small producer from the community of La Calera within the municipality of Popayan in the department of Cauca. I have a family farm called La Laguna. My family’s economic livelihood is dependent on coffee. I also cultivate sugar cane.
How and when did you started working in coffee?
I was 16 years old. I start helping to pick coffee during the harvest for my parents. I saw how they lived off the coffee business. I liked the coffee culture and decided to continue the tradition.
What is your favorite part about harvesting coffee?
I like growing coffee, clearing the weeds and fertilizing the small plants and then watching them grow as the days pass. This gives us hope.
How has business changed over the years?
It has improved a lot because over the last few years the prices have been stable. In addition, our coffee is now bought as specialty coffee at better prices. I thought you could only sell coffee for the publicized price, but now I see that there is a new market that values our efforts on the farm. There has not been a drop in prices like 5 years ago during the crisis when the prices fell sharply and you could not cultivate coffee and sustain your family.
How many people are in your family and how do they help you during the harvest?
I have three children that live in the city of Popayan. On the farm I live with my mother and a nephew. My mother is in charge of preparing food for the workers. My nephew helps me with the harvest and sees to the workers’ needs. He also helps me process the coffee. He is my right hand.
Can you describe a typical day on your farm?
I do many things. During the harvest, I have to install the motor and depulp the coffee, remove the pulp from the wet mill, manage the drying, and make sure the workers are careful. When it is not the harvest season, I manage the coffee cultivation which includes clearing the weeds with a machete, fertilizing, cultivating plantains to take to the market in Popayan, doing maintenance on drying beds, and processing sugar cane to make panela (raw sugar).
Do you have long term projects for your coffee farm?
I want to build a chicken coop for egg production and another to fatten chickens and pigs. I can use the manure for organic fertilizer. I also want to build another solar dryer. I also want to reforest the farm. I am planting trees in the coffee plots and also near a water spring because a coffee farm needs a consistent source of water.
What is the most expensive part of coffee production?
The most expensive part is paying the pickers. During the harvest there are always economic pressures because you have to be prepared to feed the workers and pay them for their work every weekend. Also fertilizing is expensive and gets more expensive every day in Popayan.
How do the prices of coffee in the international market impact your ability to produce coffee?
There is a big impact. In the last few years prices have been stable and our work on the farm has remained calm. But when the prices drop too much, it is difficult to continue cultivating coffee. You have doubts about making a costly investment or paying more to workers and still earn some profit.
How has climate change impacted your coffee production?
When there are long dry seasons, the coffee cherry is underdeveloped, there is a lot of broca (beetle bore), the quality drops, and the coffee plants look very battered. It also delays planting new coffee. In the rainy season, the coffee does not flower evenly, production is lower and it is harder to harvest. Caturra cherry falls from the trees very easily when it rains and it is hard to collect from the trees before it falls. This year there was a problem with hail, which hit the trees and caused some of the cherry to fall to the ground.
What do you want roasters and consumers to know about your coffee and work?
I want them to know that the harvest is a very difficult time of year. You must work the entire day regardless of the weather. You work even when it rains. It is important that this hard work is valued and that our desire from the farm is to deliver a good cup of coffee in exchange for a good price.
What would you like to know about coffee buyers?
I would like to know the places where my coffee is served. I would like to see how my coffee is roasted and prepared to drink. I would like to have a conversation with them about the work on the farm and ask them what they think about coffee producers.
How often to coffee buyers visit you?
This year I started selling my coffee through BANEXPORT. I have noticed a closer relationship. They give me information about the quality of my coffee. They have visited my farm and given me recommendations to improve. They also told me my coffee was being exported to Royal Coffee.
Can you tell us about your experience working with Royal Coffee?
This is the first time that I have known where my coffee is going. Before my coffee was sold as a commercial coffee. I hope they like my coffee and can tell me about the flavors they encounter. I also hope that international buyers come to visit my farm. I hope to improve every day to offer even better coffee.