APCO - Ocamonte
Asociacion de pequeños caficultores de Ocamonte (APCO)
Founded in 1994, APCO is a well organized group of 270 farming families, most of whom live in in the municipality of Ocamonte in the state of Santander. This area is considered one of the most peaceful coffee growing regions in Colombia. Visitors are warmly welcomed to this region which is also known for it's striking physical beauty and a budding eco and adventure tourism industry.
- Founded in 1994
- Made up of 270 farming families (2008)
- Crop diversification: sugar cane, plantain, corn, beans, bananas
- 2009 production: 560,000 pounds (almost half organic, other portion is transitional)
- Located in the Eastern Mountain Range of Colombia
About two years ago, APCO decided to change exporters and left EXPOCAFE in favor of the specialty division of the Federacion Nacional de Colombia (FNC). So far, they are pleased with this decision and they mentioned the fact that they were meeting a buyer of their coffee at this meeting as an example of the improvements they see in exporting through the FNC. Only one person in the meeting of about 15 leaders could remember meeting a buyer of their coffee. They have been exporting since 1997 but they have not known to whom they were exporting.
About half of the members have been certified – and many others are beginning the transition. This is a difficult time to convince farmers to convert to organic because the market price is high and the organic premium represents a lesser overall premium. But the combination of a this group's general desire to grow organically along with their reputation for organization seems to be what holds the group together.
The harvest begins at lower altitudes of 1,200 meters in September and continues up the mountains New warehouse in Ocamonte reaching coffee growing at 1,700 meters in January. The export season is from November to March. The trees are typically picked at least three times. Most coffee is Colombiana which is a variety similar to Caturra.
Their organizational structure is typical of many small farmer organizations – the board is elected at an annual assembly and consists of a president, secretary, treasurer and various committee heads such as the fair trade and security committees. There are 10 members of the board – one from each of the 10 villages that participate in APCO. Board elections are for a 2 year term and there is a two term limit for a maximum of 4 consecutive years of service. The board meets regularly and all of the members assemble at least twice a year. They have one paid employee and all others work as volunteers.
Among the larger community projects that were constructed with fair trade premium are three bridges and a portion of a school. The fair trade committee – which has existed for many years – makes recommendations to the group for annual projects then trains the trainers for each communities on how to carry out the project. Past projects include kitchen renovations for homes, chicken projects to add income to the family from the sale of eggs, group cow purchases, and seed distribution projects.
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