If you have been drinking Just Coffee for any amount of time you are probably aware of Fondo Paez. Fondo Paez is a cooperative of about 550 families in the department of Cauca, Colombia. The organization is made up of small scale farmers from the Paez ethnic group– indigenous people whose home is in the mountains of southern Colombia. They began organizing their cooperative in 2002 and began working with Cooperative Coffees soon after.
The Paez territory is in the middle of a “red zone” in the Colombian internal conflict. Because of this the group has had to deal with transgressions by Colombian insurgents as well as the military. Their land has been occupied and used for the staging of military action for years. The Paez are stalwart in their neutrality in the conflict which arouses suspicions from all sides because they want to stay out of the war. The result has been low-intensity pressure and occasionally more pronounced problems. Throughout it all they have remained a stable force for peace in an area that has at times been rife with turmoil.
In 2011 the president of the cooperative– Luis Carlos Mestizo– was assassinated as he was leaving the bank in the city of Santander. All of Fondo Paez’s money for their coffee sales was stolen. The group was already suffering from lower yields due to coffee rust (Roya) lost their cash for the year. This was a low point for the organization and lesser groups surely would have thrown in the towel. Instead– showing their incredible resiliency– they persevered and rededicated themselves to their work.
JCC has worked with the Paez for several years. We have hosted representatives of the co-op in Madison and attended several conferences and meetings with them over that time period. However, because their situation has been so tenuous in terms of the civil war in Colombia, we had never visited them until now. With conflict settling down in Cauca, even just a bit, the time felt to visit them with other members of Co-op Coffees and other roasters and allies.
I will follow this post with more details in the next few days, but I need to underline how impressed and awed we all were with Fondo Paez and their work. Their coffee has consistently been some of our best over the years. Like Las Diosas and some of our other close partners, FP has weathered continued storms and come back stronger over and over again. I am looking forward to detailing my visit and their work in the next couple of weeks. If you have not tried their coffee yet, do yourself a favor and grab a bag.
Catch you all on the flip-flop….