Achieving profit through passion

I met producer Diofanor Ruiz last November when visiting Colombia with Olam Coffee to learn about its AtSource program. What is evident upon first meeting Diofanor, 51, is his passion for coffee farming. His 13.5-hectare farm, La Divisa, is not only producing amazing coffee, but it is also one of the most innovative, efficient and organized farms I have ever seen.

Finca La Divisa is situated in Buenavista in the northern reaches of the Andes mountains (growing altitudes range from 1,500 to 1,750 meters) — the center of the Zona Cafétera, Colombia’s coffee belt. At a time when coffee prices have been frequently below cost of production – greatly impacted coffee producers’ farming methods and of course, livelihoods – Diofanor is adding value to his coffee by taking risks — he is experimenting with processing methods. A savvy producer, Diofanor knew that the key to increasing profitability was in specialization. Ergo, he began working with Olam eight years ago when he needed a sponsor to become certified. Olam offered training on differentiated processing techniques through its Q-Processing course (co-funded by Olam and S&D Coffee & Tea). The new skills helped Diofanor access the specialty market.

Today, 50% of Diofanor’s production is specialty coffee, compared with just 10% six years ago. The farm now produces traditional washed coffee alongside honey processed and naturals via alternative fermentation and drying techniques. His varietals include Castillo, Tabi and Cenicafé Uno (1).

An alchemist and a producer, Diofanor’s innovative processing steps include:

  1. Selective picking
  2. Floatation — to select by density (a low-density float would not qualify for specialty coffee)
  3. Manual selection/handpicking
  4. Fermentation
  5.  Drying — sun-drying on raised beds or mechanical

Through the manual selection, only the lushest cherries, with a deep, dark red or bright red coloring (depending on the varietal), are chosen. Diofanor’s fermentation methods include wet (tanks), dry (crates) and anaerobic. The coffee ferments for a minimum of 48 hours before depulping. Depending on the coffee and the method, the coffee could ferment for another 48 hours. (Anaerobic fermentation with fully washed coffee has exceeded 120 hours). The drying process includes sun-drying on raised beds located on a rooftop or mechanically.

Our group visited during harvest season and was able to observe the processing first-hand. Most in the group admitted that Diofanor’s cherries were among the most beautiful we have ever seen.

Agroforestry practices and biodiversity have allowed him to reduce fertilizer use. To shade his coffee trees, Diofanor uses plants that are conducive to coffee and the environment such as plantain, citrus and avocado trees. No pesticides or chemicals are used. He admitted that agroforestry practices have resulted in lower production, but the upside is higher quality, improved taste and lower environmental impact.

And his risk with experimental processing methods are paying off. Diofanor said that several times he was offered lower prices by the buyers when they learned of the processing method but after the coffee was cupped, he was able to negotiate a higher price.

Diofanor has an agro business administration degree, along with impressive marketing skills (I believe everyone in our group bought at least one bag of the three coffees we cupped on the farm, which he roasts and sells), so he does not have to be a coffee farmer. But as he said, “I’m doing what I love, not what I have to do.”

It is rare to see passion and profit harmoniously co-exist, and yet Diofanor is doing just that. Although his profits may not be huge, Diofanor said he is encouraged enough to continue experimenting while setting new goals. I look forward to seeing (and tasting) the results of Diofanor’s future experiments.

  • Vanessa L. Facenda, editor Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. She may be contacted via [email protected].

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