|The UNESCO World Heritage List doesn't include only ruins or natural reserves, it also includes cultural aspects that are closely tied to a specific geography. I remember with emotion my visit on the site of Grand Pré or the Tequila fields which are examples of that, so is the cultural landscape of coffee in Colombia.|
It's strange at first to realize that
the history of this way of living is merely a hundred years old, and
really began its expansion in the 1920s, and still subsist in the
same model, which is unique in the world. The coffee growing
business in Colombia is in the hands of very small producers, usually
families owning less than two hectares, who sell their grains to
cooperatives which in turns goes to the international market through
the coffee exchanges.
That model is very different from the
banana industry for example that is outrageously dominated by a
handful of giant companies.
Coffee beans, first quality, for exportation.
The weather is perfect for coffee in
Colombia, right North the equator (best zone is five degrees up or
down the equator) with the ultimate mix of ground, altitude and
seasons (rain vs dry). That makes Colombia the only country in the
Americas (out of three in the world) where they can harvest all year
around. In most countries, they have 2 or 3 harvest periods in a
year, Colombia has 20. Its continuous availability is one of the
factors why Colombian coffee is so present and its very high quality
yields the highest prices in the world for mainstream productions
But the high quality isn't only the
result of Mother Nature, the extremely labour-intensive harvesting
methods and the rigorous selection process play a big role in
delivering the best beans possible.
Mountains where grow coffee.
The main characteristic of the area
known as the coffee axis (eje cafetero) are the mountains. Yes, with
an altitude above 1 800 m (6 000 feet), the zone is pretty high but
it's anything but a plateau. The mountains here create a dramatic
relief with very high mountains and deep narrow valleys.
One of the reasons why this coffee zone
has more value is because of their use of the land. The rare patches
of flat land is used for construction of villages either at the
bottom of valleys or on top of mountains, leaving only hills for
agriculture. Over time, they have claimed most of the potential of
the vertiginous slopes of the mountains.
It's common practice here to have
coffee fields on slopes of 60 degrees inclination or more! Such
practices make it of course totally impossible the use of machinery
to do the harvesting, leaving the job to expert pickers (who do it
all year-long as opposed to only a few weeks for most other
countries) the job to hand-pick the best beans on those dangerous
slopes (imagine doing it under the rain with slippery mud).
Machines help however in the cleaning
and other steps of processing the beans. The human is required again
later for the categorization of the coffee grains to determine its
Picker with his loaded bag.
It is this intimate synergy between the
people, their economy and their geography that persists today and its
uniqueness in the world that granted a place on the UNESCO World
Heritage list in 2011.