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The CLIF® Coffee Collection: A Wake-Up Call for Organic Farming in Colombia

At Clif Bar & Company, farmers matter. “We’re deeply committed to our farmers,” says Rada Dogandjieva, Clif Bar’s senior agriculture programs manager. “As a food company, we recognize that our long-term success depends on the success of farmers and their rural communities. That’s why we support supply chains that are equitable, transparent, and encourage sustainable and organic farming practices.”

Never has that been more true than with the farmers who grow the coffee beans essential to the great taste and crunchy texture of CLIF BAR® Coffee Collection Energy Bars, three invigorating CLIF BAR® flavors crafted with sustainably sourced organic coffee beans from Colombia, one of the world’s premier coffee-producing countries.

Clif Bar sources their coffee beans from Colombian farmers like Elizabeth Meneses Mambuscai, whose passion for coffee equates to life itself: “We plant it, it grows, it bears fruit and leaves its children to start a new generation.” Her father, Jesus Eimer Meneses, derives great pride from growing coffee beans using organic practices and cultivating the “flora and fauna that surrounds [them] with respect for the environment.”

"Clif Bar could have followed the route of many traditional businesses and purchased the cheapest coffee bean on the market. But from the start of developing the CLIF BAR® Coffee Collection, we wanted to not only create delicious energy bars, but ones that built into their design the care for the community and the coffee farmers,” Rada noted.

“We had an opportunity to be very intentional about how we bring a new ingredient into our supply chain,” she explained. “It’s a classic example of how we apply our Five Aspirations to business decisions.”

To help find a coffee bean that is traceable, organic, and Fair Trade-certified, Clif Bar turned to Sustainable Harvest®, an Oregon-based, values-conscious importer with an approach it calls “Relationship Coffee,” which is focused on creating longstanding connections with the communities it supports. Sustainable Harvest staff work closely with co-op leaders and farmers to bring the best technology and traceability systems to the farm level, partnering with specialty coffee growers during the cultivation, harvest, processing, and transport of coffee.

One group that Sustainable Harvest connected Clif Bar to is Federación Campesina del Cauca (FCC), a nearly 700-member farmer association in southwest Colombia, where smallholder coffee farmers like Elizabeth and Jesus grow the kind of specialty coffee bean typically used to brew a $3.50 latte. FCC helps its small family farms adopt climate-smart, sustainable and organic farming techniques, access specialty coffee markets, and prepare the next generation of farmers.

Health issues and FCC’s training led Jesus to switch from growing vegetables conventionally to growing coffee beans organically five years ago. “I chose to be an organic producer after a visit to the doctor for severe headaches,” he explained. “The doctor [said] the application of many agrochemicals was affecting my brain. He told me to stop growing vegetables.”

FCC offered an alternative, teaching Jesus organic methods for growing coffee. No more headaches and a new source of income. “As an organic producer, I realize that getting to produce coffee [organically] is an advantage — for your pocket, for your health, for the environment.”

Elizabeth was more reluctant to convert to organic than her dad. When Jesus switched to organic coffee farming, she was studying at a university that “taught [her] a model of agriculture with 100% chemical production and giant returns.” She and her father argued about the best approach to agriculture.

“I was trying to tell him to go back to the conventional coffee industry, and he ignored me,” she recalled. “He told me, ‘Here is your life, your water, your soil. If you do not take care of it, you will live very badly. I seek your well-being and the well-being of others. Think about that.’”

She began listening to FCC technicians who came to advise her father about various organic practices and innovations. Today, her enthusiasm for organic agriculture has “made [her] a totally new person.” In fact, she now spends a lot of her time encouraging young men to become organic farmers instead of gravitating to cities or succumbing to the lure of easy money from drug trafficking and illicit crop production that plagues her region.

Making the switch was a wake-up call for Jesus and Elizabeth. Not content with just growing coffee organically, they were able to convert the rest of their farm using the techniques they learned from the FCC with the increased income from their coffee sales. While coffee is still the only crop that Jesus sells, he is proud knowing that he and his family — and even his livestock — can now enjoy fresh, healthy, organic food every day in a country where such produce is uncommon and expensive.

What’s more, Jesus said that today his organic coffee yield matches that of conventional coffee producers. Plus, organic and fair trade coffee beans are gaining in popularity, offering FCC’s farmers a growing market and premium prices. “Through coffee,” Jesus said, “lives are cultivated, and through coffee we can cultivate the development of our communities.”

Rada said that’s exactly what Clif Bar hopes to help its Colombian partners achieve: “Coffee is an ingredient that can be a force for positive change. The CLIF BAR ®Coffee Collection isn’t just a delicious way to infuse energy into a hike, ride, or a workout, but a way to infuse positive energy all along our supply chain, all the way to the farmers who make our food possible.”