Project in the spotlight: Rikolto supports Ecuadorean coffee farmers

Support in the fight against climate change, deforestation and other challenges
Creating sustainable value is not only Umicore’s aim, but also Rikolto’s (the erstwhile Vredeseilanden) when it comes to supporting coffee farmers in Ecuador: ensuring that farmers get a fair chance in their struggle against climate change, deforestation, the aging population and all other social challenges faced by the world.
The coffee farmers in the Intag valley in the north of Ecuador face a number of challenges. Mining activities in the region attract the younger generations who want to make a lot of money in the short term, which threatens the succession in the family businesses and therefore the production of coffee as a whole. The same mining is also responsible for major deforestation, with all the associated consequences for the local ecosystem.

The financial crisis of the ‘90s left deep scars too. The resulting dollarization did make for a more stable economy, but also ramped up production costs, while they increased at a lower rate in surrounding countries. This seriously affected the price of Ecuadorean coffee on the international market: why pay so much if you can pay less for Colombian coffee that is of better quality?
Global warming, deforestation caused by mining, insect infestations and so on also cause fluctuating crops, which leaves the few farmers still willing and able to produce coffee uncertain of a stable and respectable income.
The coffee farmers in the Intag Valley in northern Ecuador face many challenges.

Pictures: Rikolto
Text: Vincent Nuytemans
About 150 farmers have united in AACRI, the Agro-artisan association of coffee farmers of the Intag river.

Strength in numbers

To combat all the challenges, 150 farmers united under AACRI, the agro-artisanal association of coffee farmers along the Intag river. This association not only relies on support from the local, regional and even national authorities, but also gained sympathy from Rikolto in its quest to take on the giants. Here is the story as told by Johanna Renckens, director in Ecuador: “We support the farmers in the valley in the form of a 5-year plan, which guides them step by step in professionalizing the AACRI. In the first instance, we do that by setting up and implementing a business plan, improving the product quality and positioning the product in the local and international market.

Without the financial support from Umicore through Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs, this Rikolto project would not exist and the farmers would have to dehusk the (coffee) beans themselves.

We want to eventually achieve a consistent crop, both for the growers and the customers, an integration of the coffee cultivation in all social structures of the valley, therefore also among the youth and women, and specifically offer a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to invasive mining activities.

No Umicore, no project

An important condition for approval of the Rikolto project was the fundraising: the Belgian government (Directorate-General for Development Cooperation) supports Rikolto’s projects, but at least 20% of the required budget had to be raised external to the organization. Without this (private) participation there simply wouldn’t be a project. Rikolto approached the specialist organization Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs, who in turn got a commitment from Umicore to finance this project.
Johanna explains: “The financing we received from Umicore is a critical lever to make our project in Ecuador a reality. In a nutshell: No Umicore, no project. Everything we do there is thanks to the support we get from Umicore.”
“Our primary aim is to create a stable and respectable income for the current generation of farmers. We have to turn AACRI into a financially robust and well managed business. This has clearly been a success, as the organization currently runs at 96% of break-even. Once we have the financial aspect under control we can put more effort into the socio-cultural and of course the ecological aspect, although the latter is inextricably linked to the steps we have already taken: you can’t improve the quality of the coffee without considering the natural environment. After all, we aim for sustainability at all levels, namely people, profit and planet.”
Thanks to Umicore’s support, the Rikolto project in Ecuador is fully financed. Would you also be interested in following Umicore’s lead? Search for the projects that still require support. Donations from as little as €40 are tax deductible!
For more information contact: or call her at 016 32 10 72