They are grouped into 20 grassroots organizations in 6 provinces: Santa Marta, San Pedro, Aracataca, Siberia, Palmor and Fundacion. Most of them came from provinces in the interior of the country such as Santander, Antioquia and Tolima, started as pickers on big plantations, and later became farmers themselves.
Their income was mainly generated from coffee, but they gradually diversified into honey production. Since they are so close to the natural reserves, and in order to live in harmony with their environment, Red Ecolsierra farmers always reserve a part of their farms for forestry. Oikocredit became a partner in 2010 with a small loan to support day-to-day activities during the coffee harvest.
This year, Oikocredit supported a capacity building intervention to support Red Ecolsierra’s strategic plans aimed at improving their coffee farmers’ productivity.
The primary beneficiaries were 171 members located in Cienaga. They were provided with management tools to help with decision making, traceability and technical assistance, and trained in pruning and shadow management.
Training also included guidance in pest management, which has resulted in a 30% reduction in terms of quality and cupping. The project pertains to ecological farming and included organizational support. General manager Victor Cordero and project manager Lucero Villa were closely involved to ensure effective communication of the main goals, and effective dissemination of information. Red Ecolsierra members participated actively and with great enthusiasm.
A radio program, "Tu voz Ecolsierra" (Your voice Ecolsierra) was launched as a result of the conference. It provides an effective means of communication for farmers in which activities, prices and other information is transmitted weekly.
The program reinforces the concept of strategic planning as well as the mission and vision of the association. Even though the intervention is complete, the program still broadcasts as a 30-minute interactive talk show, with farmers allowed to suggest topics to discuss in the next session.
As a certified organic and Fairtrade organization, Ecolsierra encourages members and their families to see the social and economic benefits of using modern production processes and commercializing organic products. This generates sustainable income, which guarantees a better life for members.
Ecolsierra is one of the few organizations on the coffee market in Colombia that has tried to succeed on the international market through direct sales. They have gradually diversified into other products with better margins, such as roasted coffee and packaged honey.
Red Ecolsierra products can be purchased in large local supermarkets such as Exito, Carrefour and Olimpica. Oikocredit continues to support Red Ecolsierra through fair financing. They are seen as one of the most progressive organizations within the coffee sector in Colombia.
Oikocredit provided a loan of COP 300 billion to Red Ecolsierra at the end of 2011, to be used as working capital for a one year coffee campaign. Oikocredit has recently approved a new loan for COP 640 billion, for a period of 6 years, to purchase a warehouse in Santa Marta, Colombia.