We speak with Pedro, who leads LDC’s production of sustainable coffee in Colombia.
“Colombia has great potential to produce more top quality sustainable coffee,” says Pedro Manrique, our Sustainability Manager in the country.
Climate change is forcing local producers to move higher and higher up the mountains (coffee plantations can now be found beyond 2,000 meters); like their counterparts elsewhere around the world, many young Colombians are moving from farms to the big cities; complex certification and verification schemes make the coffee business increasingly difficult to navigate. Yet despite the many challenges faced by coffee businesses in Colombia, Pedro, a native Colombian educated in Madrid is full of optimism and drive.
We catch him during his visit to LDC offices in Geneva, Switzerland.
“My country has the best coffee in the world,” Pedro grins. “Even though others are rapidly catching up,” he adds, referring to Costa Rica and Guatemala, which are stepping up their production. “Colombia is the home of high quality coffee made with experience, care and attention.”
For Colombians, and especially for Pedro, coffee is part of the national identity. It is also a business opportunity.
Although sustainability is his expertise, Pedro has very commercial instincts.
“I did not expect to work with coffee after finishing my MBA in Madrid, but a headhunter contacted me to work for a leading coffee merchant and I accepted.” In November 2015, Pedro joined LDC, where he was given responsibility for a team of agronomists in six coffee-producing regions.
He spends his time building and maintaining client relationships, visiting farmers, managing a team, and working to strengthen the bond between “the field”, LDC traders and management.
“I have an amazing job,” he says, adding quickly that there still is a long way to go before reaching his goal of “increasing the volume of sustainable, certified or verified coffee that LDC handles.”
Consumers are increasingly aware of where and how their coffee has been produced, and with the emergence of a premium-coffee culture, Colombia has grown to become a strategic center for sustainable coffee production.
The challenge? “To convince farmers to invest in and grow sustainable coffee while making LDC their company of choice to sell it,” Pedro says.
“I am trying to help farmers understand that – in the long term at least – sustainability will make them more productive and profitable.”
Sustainability, he says, is a good starting point for building lasting relationships.
“Our agronomists – and myself – spend a lot of time cultivating relationships, and training farmers to adapt to the increasing demands that go with sustainable coffee production.”
Adapting to more sustainable practices is an expensive investment. Farmers are often – and understandably – reluctant to spend money up front, worrying they will not be able to sell their coffee at a premium.
For our company, on the other hand, the risk comes from investing in a farm without knowing whether or not the farmer will sell to LDC.
“A lot comes down to mutual trust, but there is never a guarantee.”
Managing coffee sales in Colombia requires a lot of on-the-ground expertise and patience, Pedro says. He describes how complex the preparations for local transport can be. Infrastructure and security remain a concern.
“Maintaining traceability for coffee grown in the mountains is a big operation. Not everybody can do it.”
Plans for the future?
“I’m staying in Colombia for now,” says Pedro. “We have a huge task ahead here, but being with LDC, I want to make the most of the possibilities and opportunities to learn from people around the world.”