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Cultural Coffee Landscape
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-12-05 18:14:49 | Manizales, Caldas, Colombia
Keywords: coffee, UNESCO
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.

History

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 (not speciality).

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.


Landscape

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 value.


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.


Related posts:
Ouro Preto
Modern Ensemble of Pampulha
Cuenca
Isla de la plata
San Agustin site

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