The history of coffee in Peru


Coffee production came to Peru in the 17th century. Two centuries later, the typica variety still accounts for 60 percent of the country's exports. There are more than 110,000 coffee growers in Peru, most of whom are indigenous to these lands and speak Spanish as a second language. The average farmer/rancher lives on two or three hectares, a few hours from the convenience of electricity and running water. Peruvian coffee exports account for two percent of both the national economy and theglobal coffee supply. Peru is rapidly building a worldwide reputation for producing traditionally grown, high-quality Arabica beans.

The coffee economy

The Peruvian coffee economy is small and the country's typical wet milling operation is even smaller. From May to September, farmers pick ripe cherries and bring them to hand pulpers and wooden fermentation tanks. This tradition of wet milling has protected Peru's water resources from the devastating effects of pulp mills polluting rivers. After processing the coffee, most farmers walk or mule their beans to the nearest town-a trip that can take anywhere from thirty minutes to eight hours. On Saturdays, the square of the nearest town becomes a buying and selling station for nearby distant coffee producers. Farmers sell coffee and buy goods for their homes before heading back to the mountain trails.

Selling at the market

An unfortunate but all too common experience of buying and selling at the marketplace is the arrival of only one buyer. This dramatically reduces the price paid to farmers for their coffee. With no private storage space in the city and only unreliable and expensive bulk storage, farmers generally have no choice but to accept lower prices. Buyers in the regional capital then repeat this process within a week. The more remote the farms, the more the coffee is mixed and traded before it reaches the coast. There, the coffee is dry-ground and prepared for export. This disorganised trading system and isolation has alienated farmers from the final beverage that comes from their farms. For many years growers have worked to exchange weight/dollars for coffee in parchment, completely disconnecting the idea that they are producing a beverage that will be used or thrown away depending on its quality. Middlemen have been known to increase the weight by throwing sand and water into each bag .

Fairtrade cooperatives

Over the past decade, Peru's small cooperatives have coalesced into a movement and provided a more organized and rewarding opportunity for the tens of thousands of smallholders who were once subjected to the exploitative business practices described above. It is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of the more than 100,000 smallholders in Peru now belong to cooperative organizations. These cooperatives have partnered with international Fair Trade and environmental networks to stimulate their growth. Working with partners such as Equal Exchange, Peruvian smallholder cooperatives have quickly become the second largest supplier of Fair Trade certified coffee after Mexico and one of the world's leading organic producers. The higher prices offered through these certified and specialty markets have strengthened cooperatives and offered farmers at least some price premiums. More direct market access has also helped the four Fair Trade certified cooperatives to establish themselves among Peru's top 21 coffee exporters.


The cooperatives have invested these price premiums and many donations from international development agencies in building infrastructure to improve coffee quality, processing and exports, training farmers in their transition to certified organic production, and social development projects.

Differences in farming and trade

Significant differences that farmers encounter are the better prices they receive on the farm. The differences are about the organization and development of a collective sense of identity through participation in their cooperatives, about the ability to own and control their means of production, and about the shared learning process through farmer training and exchanges. One farmer shares her reflections, "There used to be no training. But now they tell us about gender roles. You learn to appreciate them".