Interview by Katy Puga, Rainforest Alliance
It is estimated that more than 1.2 billion people around the world drink coffee. In Peru, coffee is an important source of income for thousands of small and medium-size farmers, who export around 95% of their beans to international markets thanks to their high quality, aroma, and flavor. Peruvian coffee is produced in 12 of the nation’s 24 regions; many are located near protected areas, making sustainable farm management essential. Currently, some 30% of Peru’s coffee production is certified as sustainable.
Thanks to support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon, a regional project that supports the creation of economic alternatives for local communities, Rainforest Alliance is helping coffee farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices, and creating important international market linkages. As a result, more than 70,000 hectares of land have been brought under sustainable management and Peru boasts the largest number of Rainforest Alliance CertifiedT coffee farms in the world. And, more than 50 coffee roasters across four continents source their beans from these sustainably managed farms.
Wilson Sucaticona, a young farmer of indigenous Aymara descent, inherited a tradition of coffee farming from his parents and is growing some of the best coffee in the world on his farm, Tunkimayo.
In the December 2009 Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality event, Tunki came in second place overall, beating out farms from Brazil, Indonesia, and East Africa. Most recently, Tunki coffee won the Best of Origin for Peru at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2010 Roasters Guild Coffees of the Year Competition. Tunki has also won first prize in the Peruvian National Coffee Contest — twice.
From his farm in Sandia, located in the Puno department near the border with Bolivia, Sucaticona discusses how he grows the best coffee in Peru.
Question: How many years have you been a coffee farmer?
Sucaticona: I’ve been doing this for 17 years — my parents and grandparents were coffee farmers and I was raised in this tradition. During school vacations I used to help with washing the beans and removing the pulp, which was how I began to learn how to grow coffee.
My father retired, leaving me in charge of our small, seven-acre (three hectares) farm. At 34 years old, I’m still a coffee farmer and I want my children to grow coffee as well.
Q: Are you a member of any coffee cooperatives?
Sucaticona: Yes, I belong to the San Jorge Cooperative and also the Central de Cooperativas Agrarias Cafetaleras de los Valles de Sandia (CECOVASA).
Q: What kind of support do these cooperatives offer?
Sucaticona: Support from the cooperative has been very important to me. The certification programs in Peru work closely with producers who have organized into cooperatives and associations. These organizations are key entities to support farmers in the certification process and are the best way to reach international markets.
The Peruvian National Coffee Board has also had an important role in strengthening coffee organizations and promoting the participation of small producers in the different certification programs.
Q: Your farm has been Rainforest Alliance CertifiedT since 2006. How has this certification helped you?
Sucaticona: I obtained Organic and Fair Trade certifications in 2003 and Rainforest Alliance certification in 2006. These certifications taught me many things about managing my farm. For example, before we used to cut down trees and hunt animals, but now we have learned how to take care of the forests, to stop logging, and to care for the animals and the water. We protect the environment and now we have our house in order.
Certification from the Rainforest Alliance has given me very good benefits. For example, I learned how to improve the quality of the coffee plants and how to better dry the beans, which is crucial because drying affects the quality of the beans.
Q: What is the key to maintaining quality?
Sucaticona: It is difficult and care must be taken during the entire process because any slight changes can affect quality. Everything is important, from planting, to harvesting, to drying…if something isn’t right, it harms the coffee.
For example, to make sure that quality is not affected, I take my product to the stocking center by wheelbarrow. It’s a three hour walk from my farm but I do it because I know that the aroma of the coffee changes if I take it by mule or horse; these animals sweat and their odor affects the beans. Since I want my coffee to be perfect, I am always looking for better ways to do things.
Q: You won the national coffee prize for the second time. What does having the best coffee in Peru mean to you?
Sucaticona: The first time I won was very exciting because frankly, I wasn’t expecting it. The truth is that this year I did expect to win. I already had experience from the last time, I knew exactly how long to dry the coffee to make it perfect and when to submit the sample to participate in the contest. I worked very hard and spent a lot of time preparing.
Later I realized that my coffee competed against more than 300 coffees and I won first place in a very competitive event! This makes me very proud and happy. Now my coffee is being auctioned and I hope to get a good price.
These awards prepared me for the Specialty Coffee Association of America award that I just won. These recognitions motivate me to continue improving the quality and reputation of Peruvian coffee.