The team of Solidaridad in Colombia, in its role as Technical Secretariat of the Sustainable Trade Platform, developed a finance course for coffee farmers –funded by the Global Coffee Platform– with an interactive approach, playful and different tools and most importantly: a invitation to reflect on financial habits.
This dynamic method seeks to find a different way to learn about financial resources management in the coffee farms, as farmers, more than knowing how to calculate coffee costs, should understand the importance of finance and see their own farm as a business.
“They Never Did The Math”
Dora Luz Osorio is one of the coffee growers who took the course in its pilot phase. She was raised in a coffee family, but she affirms that among the knowledge transmitted by her father, there was none related to finances. “Previously they harvested coffee but did not know how much they earned…” she says, explaining how her parents never knew if they had lost or won with each harvest.
One of the main challenges for farmers is differentiating the farm from “a piece of land” to “the place where I live”, explains Manuel Solís, one of the field technicians who applied the course’s pilot in Colombia. Unfortunately, some farmers ask for agricultural loans and then use them to buy a motorcycle or a household tools, as Solis identified, or they can also refuse to use those resources when they need them for issues related to the crop. Additionally, many may not understand well the operation of interest rates and take options that allow them to pay a low monthly fee without considering that they will pay more money for interest than they would if they had taken a shorter-term loan.
Although this challenge has been identified, a new one rises: math is not an easy topic to teach. “One, as a professional, is afraid to teach that kind of subjects because there’s always the fear of losing people’s engagement. That’s why I don’t go deep into the topic” explains Pilar Martínez, another of the technicians that piloted the course, who also agrees with Manuel in that most of the students have completed up to third grade only.
For this reason, Jackeline Londoño, project leader and member of the Solidaridad’s team, considers this issue comes from the mismanagement of personal finances, not only from farmers but from the society as well. “We spend more than we earn because we don’t plan and that leads us to resort to credit, we over-indebt ourselves, and in the case of farms, utility is not always reinvested (as working capital) because it was spent in advance,” explains Londoño. According to her, not knowing about finances is ignoring the starting point of the issue “If this happens, it is difficult to trace a proper route to improve results in the following years.”
First Understand the “Why” and then Study the “How”
Although teaching the practical financial basis might be complicating, it is indeed useful to know how to get costs, what data needs to be collected, what is an indicator, etc. Such knowledge could be directly applied on running the coffee farm. For this reason, the course is based on different and playful formats such as photo-stories and radio-stories. They begin eith a personal topics about money management through the story of Mr Gastón, Ms Flor, Leidy and Jorge, members of a coffee family that together with Mr Pacho, his neighbor, analyze the differences between desires and needs, the way in which dreams can be realized from the financial point of view, the importance of savings and the handling of credits, among others, starting from situations that give rise to connect technical issues with everyday situations.
For Carlos Alberto Tapasco, another of the facilitators of the course’s pilot “beyond the technical part, we got involved personally and deeply, that was what most impacted our participants and their families.” Maybe that’s why Pilar remembers that at the start of the program the producers commented: “Now we understand each other,” or “This is how I like to be talked to”.
The second module of the course emphasizes on what most of those trainings teach: costs. However, it also presents creative tools such as paper calculators in which the operations to obtain different indicators such as cost per arroba, per kilo, utilities and margins are already written and allow the producer to put their own data in boxes and get the result automatically. Finally, basic concepts on the preparation of budgets and efficiency indicators are presented.
For Solís, the methodology is the best he has seen in his life: “What is different is how you assemble content and activities with examples narrated through the story of a family on its farm. That allows many producers to identify themselves in the narrative, ” he says.
Farmer + computer =?
During the development of similar courses, some doubts arose, some wondered if the producers will know how to use computers, if they will like to work on digital platforms or if they will have access to Internet, etc.
Surprisingly for Dora Luz and many other producers, one of the most attractive things about the course was the opportunity to get closer to the technology. Although many did not have a computer at hand, nor the knowledge to use it, through the town halls or the associations they obtained the equipment and the Internet access to slowly acquired the ability to work with them.
According to Carlos Tapasco, this initiative helped to involve the whole family: “The man or the woman comes and takes the course, but it is the son who helps them to do the tasks on the computer,” he said. As a conclusion, using technology not only attracts grown-ups, but it can also favor the integration of families and engagement of future generations of farmers.
What Comes Next
Thanks to the pilots Solidaridad developed last year with groups of producers from different areas of the country, Coffee Program in Colombia is improving the course according to the recommendations of facilitators such as Carlos, Pilar and Manuel. Surprisingly, some of them are eager to extend the length of the course, as the producers said they would like more time to take advantage of all the content offered.
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