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Stylized facts of coffee cultivation in the III National Agricultural Census: The reflections of CRECE

During the celebration of the 30 years of CRECE, the Director of DANE, Mauricio Perfetti del Corral, presented an in-depth analysis of coffee cultivation in the III National Agricultural Census.


The analyzes reveal the most important transformations that coffee growing has undergone in the country in the productive and social spheres and those related to the sustainability initiatives of the last decade.


Below is a summary of the most relevant stylized facts derived from the analysis of coffee cultivation in the III National Agricultural Census.



The country’s coffee growing is characterized by a more intensive use of land for agricultural purposes compared to non-coffee activities. According to the use and coverage, in the Coffee Agricultural Production Units (UPA), 47.5% of the area is destined to agricultural activities, 46.9% to natural forests and 3.7% to other uses. Additionally, 68% of the areas planted in the coffee UPAs correspond to plots with only coffee, while the remaining 32% of coffee crops are found in association, mainly with plantain crops. In non-coffee UPAs, the area allocated to natural forests increases to 66.8% and those allocated to agricultural activities is 29.5%.



The tendency of coffee growing is towards the proliferation of small agricultural units, product of the accelerated subdivision of the production units. In 1960, the percentage of UPAs smaller than 1 hectare was less than 10%. In the III National Agricultural Census it was found that today they represent 33.6% of the coffee UPAs.



There is an evident reconfiguration of the national coffee geography. In 1960, the agricultural census found that 50.1% of the area planted with coffee crops was in the departments of Caldas, Tolima and Valle del Cauca. The III Census found that 61.4% of the coffee area is in Huila, Antioquia, Tolima, Cauca and Caldas. Particularly, the growth of the planted area of ​​Huila and Cauca has been 230.2% and 56%, respectively, between the mentioned censuses.



Social indicators in the field in general for coffee and non-coffee producers have been improving. The coffee population long ago enjoyed having better social indicators compared to other rural populations. For example, there has been an accelerated reduction in multidimensional poverty compared to 2005, driven mainly by the educational dimension. The Multidimensional Poverty Index in the coffee population of the dispersed rural area is 46.2%, while in the non-coffee population it is 45.9%, evidencing a loss of advantage in this area. On the other hand, now, educational indicators such as illiteracy of the population (aged 15 and over), and school attendance do not present significant differences between the coffee and non-coffee population.


Reflections GROW


According to CRECE, the first finding reveals that given the existence of a poorly diversified income portfolio and the search for higher income, coffee growers have tried to maximize the use of the space they have in their plantations with the planting of commercial crops, and thus serve basic needs of the home and the farm. It should be noted that the average size of a coffee farm is 1.7 hectares.

Until recently, this intensive use of land in agricultural activities had almost ruled out the importance of having spaces on the farm dedicated to forest protection, or even to guarantee household food security by planting crops for self-consumption.

Fortunately today this trend is reversing thanks to the emergence of sustainability initiatives. These have once again brought into discussion the importance of guaranteeing that coffee cultivation takes place in the midst of sustainable environmental and social conditions.


This conclusion has been confirmed by various evaluations on the implementation of sustainability initiatives carried out by CRECE in which it has been found that the country’s coffee industry is moving towards the coexistence of coffee with other species and crops necessary for the preservation of the environment and of home.


On the other hand, although the process of mini-farming coffee farming is not new, the debate that in CRECE’s opinion should also be put on the table is the visualization of “family farming” in coffee farming. According to the FAO, in this classification the size of the farms takes a back seat, and other conceptions are included, such as the life expectancy of the home that does not always pursue profit maximization, the predominance of family labor, and the linking the home and the farm, as the same unit. Thus, the coexistence of a coffee industry with a business vision with one that pursues other goals beyond maximizing profits invites public and sector policy designers to have a portfolio of differentiated strategies that allow them to serve the different types of households. coffee growers


On the other hand, the recomposition of the coffee geography is a phenomenon that has had effects at an economic and social level. CRECE studies reveal that the departments in the south of the country that are expanding their coffee growing, and that until recently were traditional providers of labor for the central coffee zone, today are barely able to autonomously cover their own labor and in many cases they have become workers’ claimants. Their labor surpluses have tended to decrease, deepening the phenomenon of relative scarcity at harvest time in those departments that depend to a greater extent on hired labor and that was traditionally supplied by the population living in the south of the country.


Lastly, as is well known, for a long time the coffee growing regions performed better in quality of life indicators than the non-coffee growing regions. This behavior occurred almost exclusively because the coffee institutions assumed as their own function the provision of public goods such as services, infrastructure, education and the generation of productive activities, which by nature are the responsibility of the State.


The international coffee crisis at the beginning of the century prevented the maintenance of these investments in the magnitude in which they had traditionally been made and apparently, these were only partially assumed by local and regional governments.


According to CRECE, it would be important to return to this question and find a way in which the state and the coffee sector continue to work together not only for coffee growers but also for the Colombian countryside. Without a doubt, coffee will play a very important role in the post-conflict period.



Catalina Zárate R., CRECE. Consultant on Coffee Economy.
Rafael Isidro Parra-Peña. Executive Director CRECE.