Earning a living as a family coffee farmer in Colombia’s mountainous Caldas province is hard work. To be successful, growers need to balance raising a family with cultivating coffee and investing any extra funds back into their farms. Focusing on their long-term health and financial security isn’t usually an option.
By age 53—the average age of Colombian coffee farmers—most growers on the small, family-owned Caldas farms have spent 35 years or more planting, harvesting, and processing coffee. That nearly lifelong commitment to coffee takes a physical toll, yet, until recently, retirement wasn’t possible for many farmers who needed to continue working to make ends meet. Caldas coffee farms have traditionally been passed down from generation to generation; however, an exodus of young people to the cities for more lucrative and less labor-intensive work has left many growers with no one to continue their family farming legacy.
To help Caldas coffee growers fund hard-earned and well-deserved retirements, and to promote the long-term well-being of the region’s coffee-growing communities, Nespresso—together with the Colombian Ministry of Labor, the Aguadas Coffee Growers’ Cooperative, coffee supplier Cafexport, and Fairtrade International—launched an innovative pilot retirement fund for farmers who take part in the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program. A component of Nespresso’s AAA Farmer Future Program (which also includes climate-indexed crop insurance), the pension fund is a first-of-its-kind initiative for small coffee growers like 73-year-old Don Fabio, who started working on his family’s coffee farm near the town of Aguadas, Caldas some 60 years ago.
“I can’t really work anymore because the doctors told me not to, but I watch over all the little jobs on the farm,” says Don Fabio, who is passing the coffee legacy he inherited from his parents and grandparents on to his sons. “I am happy to be part of the Nespresso AAA program because it helps us get a pension and other benefits. They pay us a good price for our coffee, and they give us a retirement contribution on top.”
The Nespresso pension fund works in conjunction with Colombia’s Beneficios Economicos Periodicos, or BEPS, a voluntary government savings program designed for people who do not earn enough to contribute to a pension. In addition to their BEPS retirement savings, growers participating in the Nespresso’s Farmer Future Program receive an additional contribution from the government equal to 20 percent of their annual BEPS contribution when they are ready to retire. The more farmers contribute annually to their BEPS savings, the faster their total retirement fund grows.
Nespresso has invested $5.4 million in the Farmer Future Program. About half of that total was spent on pensions. The remaining balance was directly used to fund technical assistance and agronomist support for AAA farmers.
Don Fabio, who started receiving a pension in 2018, is one of more than 900 growers operating Nespresso AAA coffee farms who have signed up for the retirement fund. In addition, all farmers who are members of the cooperative and earn Nespresso AAA certification are eligible for life insurance, the climate-indexed Farmer Future Crop Insurance, and other benefits designed to help farmers protect their farms, provide for their families, and ensure generational continuity in coffee.
While the Nespresso Farmer Future pension and crop insurance programs aren’t expressly designed for younger people, having social safety nets and economic incentives in place could help make coffee farming more attractive to the next generation.
Observes Don Fabio, “I am not worried because my children are very attached to me and to the countryside, but many young people are leaving for the cities and don’t want anything to do with the countryside. Who is going to take over the family farms?”
Nespresso AAA coffee grower Leonel Quintero Osoriois one of the farmers unsure about who will continue his coffee-growing legacy when he is ready to retire. He was also one of the young people who initially left his family’s coffee farm in Aguadas for the city.
“I grew up on a coffee farm with my uncles who taught me everything about coffee,” Don Leonel says. “When I was 18 years old, I went to the city to work, and after 25 years I came back to the farm. I will stay forever now. Nothing will make me go away again.”
For Don Leonel, Nespresso’s pilot retirement fund program offers hope that he will be able to support himself when he is no longer able to work on his farm, and that the next generation of his family will continue his coffee-growing traditions. Currently, Osorio’s 23-year-old nephew helps him on the farm; his adult son lives abroad and is not interested in coffee farming—yet.
“Whenever I tell him I want to sell the farm, he asks me not to do it because eventually he will come back and work on the farm, just like I did,” Don Leonel says. “Nowadays, young people have more opportunities. My nephew comes and goes from time to time, and maybe one day he will not come back. When I need to hire workers, I go to other farms and try to convince them to come work for me. When I was a young man it was very easy to find people to work on the coffee farms. Now, it is not so easy because so many young people move away to the cities.”
He says, “It is very satisfying to know that Nespresso supports us with retirement and other benefits. With its help, we can cover all our basic needs, and our children and grandchildren can see that there is a secure future in coffee farming.”
This content is brought to you by our partner. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic or its editorial staff.