The Paez (who also call themselves Nasa, or “the people”) is the largest indigenous group in Colombia. Their land is in the Cordillera Central – centered around the mountains of the Cauca departamento (state). Fondo Paez was founded in 1992, with the primary goal of recuperating traditional agricultural knowledge and indigenous culture which had been buried by centuries of conflict and oppression. Paez community leaders teamed up with Fundacion Colombia Nuestra, a Colombian-based non-profit, to start the “Recovering Agricultural Knowledge” program. The main cash crop of this region is still coffee, and, to ensure a stable income for their members, Fondo Paez organized community based coffee cooperatives. They became more organized, and, by 2000, they were selling coffee through the Coffee Federation’s Specialty Coffee program. In 2003, they produced seven containers of coffee, both conventional and organic certified.
They currently process, market, and export their coffee through the Federation, but are completely independent in their internal decision-making process. They are governed democratically and are extraordinarily well organized. They have been recently incorporated as an association in Colombia with its own legal identity.
Surprisingly, Fair Trade is still not widespread in Colombia. And even though Fondo Paez had been operating with Fair Trade practices, they did not receive their official FLO certification until 2005. Cooperative Coffees was instrumental in demonstrating to FLO (Fair Trade certifier in Europe) that a Fair Trade market existed in the U.S. for Fondo Paez coffee.
The organization provides technical assistance for quality control and organic production to its cooperative members. Fondo Paez then works with these primary cooperatives to collect coffee and transport it to a nearby beneficio (coffee mill) to be processed. The cooperative retains ownership of the coffee until it reaches the port. The coffee farmers are equal owners in the organization and receive not only the social benefits provided by Fondo Paez, but also retain a much higher percentage of coffee profits.
Fondo Paez is completely committed to the self-sufficiency of their people and have a holistic approach to farming. This is most evident on their farms. Coffee is only one of many crops that are incorporated into a diverse agro-forestry system. Food crops for their own consumption, feed crops for the farm animals, and nitrogen fixing plants for the soil are given equal importance to their cash crops: coffee, sisal, beans, and different tropical fruits.
The members of Fondo Paez have created a sustainable vision for their indigenous communities. This vision is remarkable in and of itself, but the work and successes of this organization are truly extraordinary when viewed within the context of Colombian politics and globalization. From Spanish conquest centuries ago to the armed conflict raging in their territory for the past 40 years, the Paez people have struggled for their lives, their land, and their right to self-determination.
T.J. Semanchin, Kickapoo Coffee’s owner, first forged a relationship with Fondo Paez in 2004. It was at a time when traveling in the Colombian countryside was not advisable due to the long running war between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. The Fondo Paez representatives and elders that T.J. met in the nearby town of Popayan offered the invitation to their coffee farms with the assurance that they would personally provide for his safety. It was a risk, but the Paez’s integrity and determination eased any fears. Ten years later Fondo Paez, as an organization, has persevered and grown even in the face of the extreme challenges and violence that has marred Colombia’s civilians.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Colombia Fondo Paez Cooperative, from Kickapoo Coffee Roasters in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Cauca, Colombia
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Fondo Paez Cooperative
elevation: 1500 – 2000 meters above sea level
cultivars: Typica, Bourbon, Colombiana
process: fully washed, patio dried
method: Hario V60
grind: 17, Preciso
coffee: 32 g
water: 480 mL
pour: 2:00 concentric pulse pour
tart red fruits, honeysuckle, hibiscus
spiced cherry, plum, honey, raw cocoa; apple, effervescent, zesty orange rind, vanilla
Medium body; syrupy mouthfeel; citrus acidity; clean finish.
Kickapoo Coffee’s Colombia Fondo Paez is an electric coffee that
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.