The Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation (La Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia) is a powerful and successful farmers’ organisation funded by farmers. By describing the history and present activities of the Federation, this paper examines the factors that have contributed to its many achievements. Since its establishment in 1927, the Federation has served the welfare of the country and promoted the economic and social well-being of Colombian coffee growers. The success of the Federation can be traced to the experience and competence of both its managers and members, the stability of its leadership, its financial security, and its political independence. Although the
Federation leadership comes from élite families, they have tended to act in the interests of smallholder coffee growers.
Over the years, the Federation has established a number of subsidiary institutions, including a research institute, a capital fund and a merchant marine fleet. Established in 1938, the National Coffee Research Centre (Cenicafé) is the scientific research institute of the Federation. It is most unusual for a growers’ association to continuously fund research at such a level and, as such, it is unique in developing countries. Cenicafé’s research contributes to the high quality of Colombian coffee and the subsequent premium price that it demands. Farmers play a key role in setting Cenicafé’s research agenda, although there has been less involvement of farmers in conducting or validating the research itself.
Whilst the Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation may look like a competent, alternative government or a big business with social sensibilities, it is still fundamentally an organisation of smallholder farmers. It remains a striking example of what farmers can achieve by working together and should be considered as a model for all aspiring growers’ federations.