How Hamburg Süd helps small farmers to conquer the global market
Colombia is the land of coffee. After Brazil and Vietnam, this country in the north-western corner of South America is the world’s third-largest exporter of these highly sought-after beans. In many places, coffee plantations dominate the landscape. Thanks to Colombia’s location near the equator, coffee can be harvested here all year round.
In Colombia, it is mainly small-scale farmers who cultivate the valuable Arabica bean. “Roughly 540,000 families across the country make their living from growing coffee,” says Roberto Velez. He is the CEO of the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC), an industry umbrella organisation that helps Colombian smallholders to market their product across the world. What’s more, the FNC monitors the quality of the product and organises training courses for many small farmers.
More than just a jolt of caffeine
Velez notes that the global trend towards consuming more premium coffee and specialty coffee products has given Colombian coffee cultivation an added boost. People these days are no longer just looking for a quick jolt of caffeine, he continues, explaining that they “want to savour coffee like a special wine.” Colombian beans are grown in different locations and climatic zones, they come in a wide range of flavours, and they are of high quality – which means they are “apparently exactly what people are looking for,” the FNC head says.
Demand for coffee highest in the United States
Today, the biggest importers of Colombian coffee are the United States, followed by Europe and Japan. The appetite for premium coffee is particularly strong in these markets. Leading global brands demand that the product be of the highest quality – and delivered reliably. To make sure that this happens, the transports have to be carefully planned and carried out.
Hamburg Süd has been an active player in exporting Colombian coffee since the 1940s. Even closer cooperation started in 2009, when Hamburg Süd opened its own dedicated office in Colombia. Today, the company is the market leader in the export of green coffee beans.
Creative solutions for inland transports
However, “exporting coffee is a complex business and demands a lot of expertise,” notes Liborio Cuellar, Managing Director of the Caribbean Sea Area (CAR) based in Bogotá.
Given the condition of the roads in many parts of Colombia, just transporting the beans by truck from the hinterland to the three ports of Buenaventura, Cartagena and Santa Marta can be an adventure if you do not know your way around. In addition, both the weather and pest infestations cause large fluctuations in the harvests. “Since the supply chain in this business is riddled with complexity, it is extremely important to be flexible and close to the customer,” Cuellar explains. “And our main support comes from communicating often and giving the shipper the highest-possible visibility for them to manage their shipments.” This also includes things like working with local partners to come up with creative and innovative logistical solutions, such as test shipments by rail to Santa Marta or by barge on the Magdalena River to Cartagena.
And the FNC appreciates that, too. In summing up his organisation’s good working relationship with the carrier, Velez says, “Hamburg Süd knows the business inside out and is a very good, reliable and, most importantly, approachable partner for us at all times.”
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