For the majority of Colombia’s 53-year civil war, the southern province of Cauca was a stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In the dog-eared copy of Lonely Planet that I’ve brought with me, the area isn’t even mentioned. Just ten years ago, it was not a recommended destination for tourists. Today, it not only feels safe; it feels welcoming.
As the sun sets purple over the Cordillera Occidental mountain range, Cosurca’s employees spill out into the open-air patio, where dozens of chairs, a projector, and a table groaning beneath the weight of a two-foot-wide cake have been set up. Cumbia music plays from someone’s tinny speakers and cell phone cameras flash as younger employees take selfies with more senior staff. Today is a day to reflect on the past, but it’s also a day of celebration. It’s Cosurca’s 25th birthday.
These people have worked hard to get here, and they deserve a party. In 1993, as Cosurca was scaling up its operations, solidifying relationships with producer organizations, and searching for its initial financing, the conflict in Cauca was reaching its peak. Historically, the Colombian government largely neglected this southern province; high poverty and unemployment rates and low penetration of public services made it easy for guerrilla groups like the FARC to fill the gaps that the federal government left behind. As conflict escalated between pro-government forces and rebel groups, civilians—many of whom were farmers—were caught in the crossfire.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen next,” remarks Cosurca’s general manager René Ausecha. “So we had to take advantage of the opportunities we had.” By maintaining shrewd business practices and strong relationships with its producers, Cosurca persevered. Twenty-five years later, they’re still here.
Over the last ten years, Root Capital has provided Cosurca and their exporting partner Expocosurca with more than $9 million in financing—among the most we’ve disbursed to any client in our portfolio. They’ve steadily grown in their capacity to manage credit, from an initial loan of $150,000 in 2006 to their current $1 million loan.
During this time, Cosurca has maintained a focus on the health of its surrounding natural environment and the welfare of its producers. The cooperative’s technical team has offered producers critical training in sustainable farming techniques, helping them achieve both Fair Trade and organic certification. These trainings empower farmers to become stewards of the earth they depend on, while certifications guarantee them higher incomes.
Root Capital has supported this journey through our mobile advisory program. With this training, cooperative staff can now more efficiently gather the farmer-level data they need to ensure compliance for certifications, and use that data to inform targeting of farmer-level investments. Additionally, in a project funded by USAID, our advisory team is collaborating with Cosurca to help coffee farmers diversify into other products as insurance against an often-volatile global market and a rapidly changing climate.
Cosurca’s journey was never easy. “You have to keep dreaming the impossible,” says René. “That’s how you make it happen.” For the past 25 years, we’ve seen Cosurca and Expocosurca work to make their dreams a reality. Through these businesses, thousands of farming families have received the training they need to grow the highest-quality coffee, and the support they need to get it to international markets and earn higher incomes. Together, they’re emerging from a half century of war ready to build a better future.
Suddenly, the crowd quiets down. The projector slowly turns on, and everyone puts down their plates and stands up. A video of Cosurca’s warehouse comes on the screen, a few bars of guitar play, and then the whole crowd begins to sing.
With our hands of solidarity, let's sow seeds of hope in my land, my country
We're villages united by land; mestizos, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous people.
It’s Cosurca’s company anthem. And there’s not a single person here who doesn’t know the words.
As the song crescendos into its final chorus, I think of one of my favorite speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story.” Adichie says “Stories matter...when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
For decades, the single story of Colombia has been one of suffering, of fear, of a land broken. The men and women of Cosurca do not reject that story; they reject that it is the only one. Instead, they’re weaving a larger narrative. They’re writing a new story of a Colombia where businesses succeed and people work together more than they fight.
Hardworking hands of men and women, teaching peace instead of war
It's a dream of our regions, the justice and equality we've yearned for
With hard work, education, and struggle, at Cosurca we build our reality.
Root Capital is able to support COSURCA because of the Partnership for Sustainable Coffee, an alliance between USAID, Keurig Dr Pepper, and Root Capital. By supporting 100 coffee businesses with lending, advising, and skill-building, this three-year project will improve the lives and livelihoods of 90,000 smallholder farmers, as well as the roughly 500,000 household members who depend upon their success. Read more about the partnership here.