A Peek into the Life of a Colombian Coffee Farmer: Mabel’s Story

October 15, 2015

By Rachael Axelrod, Development Intern, Grameen Foundation

[If you missed it, watch a recording of Mabel's live chat.]

Yesterday, Grameen Foundation supporters video chatted live with an extraordinary woman. Mabel Berrío of Colombia wears many hats; she is a loving mother of four, proud owner of her own farm, and a leader in her community.  Every day, she wakes up at 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast for her husband and children, and then works on her farm. She manages the entire coffee bean harvesting process, from picking cherries, to drying beans. She also works as a Grameen Foundation Community Knowledge Worker, visiting neighboring coffee farms to teach others how to increase the amount and quality of coffee they produce. 

Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker initiative started in Uganda in 2009. The program is designed to serve famers in remote communities through a network of peer advisors (Community Knowledge Workers). The initiative combines mobile technology and human networks to help smallholder farmers get accurate, timely information to improve their businesses and livelihoods.  In 2013, the program was extended to Colombia and tailored to fit the cultural and social differences of the country.

CKW advisors like Mabel use mobile devices to share information with farmers and to survey them about their needs. One key area of support is helping farmers develop management plans to ensure they are following the best farming practice. This, along with the other information they receive, helps to increase farmers’ technical capacity, management skills, and their ability to earn higher prices.

As a farmer herself, Mabel understands the needs, challenges and aspirations of the people she serves. Until a year ago, she and her family used to work as coffee bean collectors. Through a special loan, Mabel and her husband were able to purchase the small five hectare farm (roughly 12 acres) they had worked on for the past three years. With help and training from Grameen Foundation, as well as her local coffee cooperative, Mabel’s farm is becoming more and more successful. Now she and her husband are able to produce up to 12,500 kilos of coffee per year. They’ve even been able to employ several workers on their farm.

Mabel works with a group of 30-40 farmers. Since becoming a CKW 19 months ago, she has been pleased to see improvements within her group, such as the switch to a safer and more environmentally friendly pesticide.  She is most proud of her work with her neighbor Leonardo. When she first began to help him, his farm was disorganized and he didn’t even know how much coffee he produced annually. With the help of a new farm management plan and other advice, Leonardo now runs his farm much better and can earn more for his family.

Mabel’s reputation in her community as a successful farmer and leader helped earn her the position as her local Community Knowledge Worker. When she heard she had been elected to the position, Mabel said she was excited and proud. Most of all, she was honored to have the confidence and respect of her community. In yesterday’s live chat, she also explained that as a woman in a prominent leadership position, she is serving as a role model for other women who look up to her. She feels empowered by the technical knowledge and leadership skills she has been given through her role as a CKW worker and is inspired to help other women also achieve their dreams. 

Join our campaign to make Mabel’s story a reality for other poor coffee farmers around the world. By giving just $2.50 today, a “Cuppa Joe”, you can help coffee farmers like Mabel in places like Colombia and Uganda increase their crop yield, learn how to become fair-trade certified, and earn more money. For every virtual "cuppa joe" you buy, you’ll earn a free one to give to a friend. An anonymous donor has generously offered to match every cup of coffee purchased, one for one! The campaign ends this week, so make sure to give a "Cuppa Joe" today!