Smallholder farmers vs Estates

Coffee comes from beautifully organised 'vineyard-like' estates, doesn't it? Most people assume that when they buy coffee, it comes from a single farm or Estate. The majority of coffee production in poorer countries is from smallholder farmers who group together in co-operatives and unions. Co-operatives and Unions deal with the admin, sales and business side of the operation, while farmers do what they do best, grow coffee. Often, the Co-ops will build milling and processing facilities for the local farmers, producing more local jobs.

Some growing regions, Brazil for example, are extremely well organised and operate with stringent procedures. This is a great way to control high volume farming operations. The Estates allow a more streamlined process than small farmers, as all of the processing is done on-site. Whether there is the expertise within the Estate to complete all parts of the process efficiently and effectively, is the difference between good and bad coffee.

[caption id="attachment_3432" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Coffee Nursery Guatemala Plan Del Guayabo Coffee Nursery Guatemala Plan Del Guayabo[/caption]

What about the poor family in Sumatra who have coffee trees growing wild, in and around their property? Is their coffee worse than that grown on a farm? Any step in the long chain of coffee production can ruin a good coffee. With a Co-operative setup, different groups with relevant expertise run each part of the process. The fear with the smallholder, Co-operative system is the number of steps in the chain, where each step can bring new problems.

[caption id="attachment_3433" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Milling at Caladeras, Guatemala Milling at Caladeras, Guatemala[/caption]

The reality is that both smallholders and estates can produce extremely good and extremely bad coffee. The point of this article is to highlight the misunderstanding that estate coffee is always better than Co-operative coffee. The way we see it, all coffee has potential. If the cherries are picked ripe and processed quickly, there is a much higher probability of getting a good quality cup of coffee.