Location – Cauca, Colombia
Elevation – 1300-1900 meters above sea level
Established – 2005
Coffee varieties – Caturra
Diversication – sisal, beans, tropical fruits
The Paez (who also call themselves Nasa, or “the people”) is the largest indigenous group in Colombia. Their land is in the Cordillera Central – centered around the mountains of the Cauca departamento (state). Fondo Paez was founded in 1992, with the primary goal of recuperating traditional agricultural knowledge and indigenous culture which had been buried by centuries of conflict and oppression. Paez community leaders teamed up with Fundacion Colombia Nuestra, a Colombian-based non-profit, to start the “Recovering Agricultural Knowledge” program. The main cash crop of this region is still coffee, and, to ensure a stable income for their members, Fondo Paez organized community based coffee cooperatives. They became more organized, and, by 2000, they were selling coffee through the Coffee Federation’s Specialty Coffee program. In 2003, they produced seven containers of coffee, both conventional and organic certified.
They currently process, market, and export their coffee through the Federation, but are completely independent in their internal decision-making process. They are governed democratically and are extraordinarily well organized. They have been recently incorporated as an association in Colombia with its own legal identity.
The organization provides technical assistance for quality control and organic production to its cooperative members. Fondo Paez then works with these primary cooperatives to collect coffee and transport it to a nearby beneficio (coffee mill) to be processed. The cooperative retains ownership of the coffee until it reaches the port. The coffee farmers are equal owners in the organization and receive not only the social benefits provided by Fondo Paez, but also retain a much higher percentage of coffee profits.
Fondo Paez is completely committed to the self-sufficiency of their people and have a holistic approach to farming. This is most evident on their farms. Coffee is only one of many crops that are incorporated into a diverse agro-forestry system. Food crops for their own consumption, feed crops for the farm animals, and nitrogen fixing plants for the soil are given equal importance to their cash crops: coffee, sisal, beans, and different tropical fruits.
The members of Fondo Paez have created a sustainable vision for their indigenous communities. This vision is remarkable in and of itself, but the work and successes of this organization are truly extraordinary when viewed within the context of Colombian politics and globalization. From Spanish conquest centuries ago to the armed conflict raging in their territory for the past 40 years, the Paez people have struggled for their lives, their land, and their right to self-determination.