From humble beginnings as part of a multi-generational coffee growing family, Valentina Duque, CEO and owner of Siruma Coffee is one of the specialty coffee industry’s leading female pioneers. Her professional coffee journey began in quality control at Colombia’s FNC before she became a Q-Grader in 2010 and gained many more years of experience working for Starbucks.
From an instinctive desire to reposition small holder farmers to the centre of the supply chain, Valentina founded Siruma Coffee (meaning ‘Heaven’ in native Wayuu dialect) in the city of Manizales in 2016.
Siruma’s mission is to build relationships between coffee farmers and coffee roasters for the long-term, assisting farmers to raise yield quality, access specialty markets and sustain quality of life. Falcon has been collaborating with Siruma to this end since 2020.
After two years of our joint venture, we have strengthened our relationship with the producers, associations and cooperatives. It has allowed Siruma to source regularly from these different groups by acting as a reliable and transparent commercial partner. During the past two years we have built trusting relationships which are helping Siruma to peel back the layers and become more active within the communities we are engaging with our team of agronomists based in Caldas, Tolima and Cauca. This style of engagement is helping these communities direct their attention to the areas that need help with their coffee production, whether it be on quality in processing or structural organisation to help them sell their coffee. Our vision is that these communities become resilient and are able to prosper on their own.
In the past year, 682 farmers have received education on specialty coffee agronomy and processing methods. That’s over 40% of all farmers that are part of the Siruma – Falcon supply chain. For example, we have achieved a project in collaboration with Falcon and Kaffa Coffee Roasters, and we have built parabolic driers on 20 farms in San Lorenzo, Caldas. As the result of the baseline done in that area, the drying infrastructure is one of the most critical points. After we finished this project, we have been able to buy their coffees as microlots.
We think it isn´t about Colombia, it is about the market always asking for something different, something that stands out from other coffees and processes. Colombia has always had innovation from FNC for producers and there is good access to education compared to other origins. It creates an environment to be able to react to the specialty market and push boundaries as there is such a good base of education in general to build upon.
There are currently two trends in the processing of coffee in Colombia. One seeks to push the boundaries and create really funky coffees with innovative processing. The other trend is keeping Colombian coffee as traditional as possible, simply perfecting their processing methods. The two opposite trends are a product of the two different types of producers, where those who are wealthy can risk coffee to innovate and push the boundaries, whereas the typical Colombian grower that has less than 3 hectares (95% of growers) cannot risk their production and prefer to get great traditional coffee. Even if we have exotic coffees, we really want to focus our efforts and help these small producers and uplift them and their quality to achieve specialty premiums and long term mutually beneficial relationships.
The past two years have had unprecedented amounts of rain. Producers have had big issues drying their coffee since the change was unexpectedly fast. The heavy rains we have experienced have impacted productivity, not allowing flowering to mature into cherries as well as then making it difficult to harvest with the risk of cherries splitting or falling to the ground as they absorb too much water through the plant as they mature. Also, we have seen that the harvest has been spread the whole year.
Most growers tend to dry part of their coffee in parabolic drying beds, but the rest is sun dried. During the rainy season they need to store their humid coffee until the rain stops and once again begin the process. This has had a big impact on their quality and income as they have to wait longer to dry the coffees and then be able to sell the coffee and receive money.
Siruma has been focused on the aspect of drying coffee with the producers with the help of infrastructure (San Lorenzo Project), technical education (Caldas, Tolima, Cauca) and also premiums to dry coffee to lower moisture levels (Monte Bonito, Café Del Micay, Argelia). These types of projects help everyone throughout the supply chain, increasing productivity for the growers and availability plus quality for the rest of the chain.
For the farmers of the San Lorenzo region of Colombia, coffee production is their principal way of life. Yet food insecurity and poverty are ever-present threats to
communities of this area. In collaboration with Falcon and partners the project aims to improve food security, through improving coffee quality. Together we are working to support the renovation of San Lorenzo’s coffee crops by delivering certified coffee seeds as well as transitory crop seeds such as corn and beans to be established in association with coffee in its early stages.
This project aims to provide the access to the materials, infrastructure and training needed to break the cycles that keep these communities impoverished. 50 farming families are being supported since the project’s inception in 2020 and last year a further 20 families became beneficiaries of improvements to coffee drying infrastructure. Siruma’s team spent a long-time establishing baselines and spending time within the community to help design the program that met the community’s goals and identified needs.
Historically, Argelia has been one of the regions in Colombia most affected by terrorism and the presence of illicit crop trade, leading to local economy distortions and legal crop substitutions. Coffee producers struggle to stay in a legal industry. Falcon Coffees and Siruma, with the help of USAID, are partnering with these producer groups on the technical support needed to allow them to increase the quality, volume, and value of their crops, through skill development and improved supply chain access, ultimately providing a valuable and reliable source of non-illicit income. This remote area has very little knowledge regarding coffee production and processing, so the income they received with their coffee activity was small.
In 2022, 220 farming families across 5 associations were supported. 165 producers were trained on GAP, sensory skills and processing methods. 40k+ kgs of parchment was purchased as specialty coffee and overall, total income to producers has increased by 67% since we began the project in 2020.
Argelia is a place where we have had presence for a while. Siruma started to work in this area because of a USAID project , whereby Siruma gave producers the opportunity to sell coffees in a place where illicit crops are the main economy. The first phase of the project was focused on coffee quality, as it is a very remote place with difficult access because of security. We conducted workshops in the rural area and on a few farms near the town. We have seen a lot of improvements, at the beginning we were receiving coffees with 22% of moisture, and now we are able to buy the coffees with much lower, acceptable moisture content.
The second phase of the project, as we noticed that farm access for our technician was difficult, we created a group of young growers from the local area. With them we started workshops where they were taught, guided on how to deliver info on the farms, and they can assist the growers as if Siruma was there. So, with this group we are trying to give assistance on the farms and also giving the opportunity to provide work opportunities for the area’s young people.
About a year and a half ago, out of nowhere someone knocked at Siruma’s door and said, “Hey, I’m Robinson Rivera and I come from Piendamó. I’ve heard about Siruma in the area and I would really like you to try my coffees.” I don’t even know where to start, but Piendamó is 8-10 hours away from our office, and Robinson didn’t even know who he was going to meet. Robinson was a coffee picker since he was a kid, he didn’t manage to finish middle school since he needed to work the land and he managed to buy a small lot about 10 years ago. 2 years after that he started an association that we abbreviate as ACC that would stand for Association of Central Cauca for Peace. His goal has been showing his associates and neighbours that they can make a good living through specialty coffee so they can stay away from illicit crops that are very common in the area.
He now buys cherries from his associates and processes them mostly as natural and honey coffees to add value to what would otherwise be conventional coffee. Siruma has been working thoroughly on their processing so they can structure different processing methods that can please different markets. Their evolution has been superb and the coffees they are offering are great; and although the quality of the coffee is a completely objective matter, it really is amazing to know the story and effort that has created that striking cup of coffee.
This is a really nice topic, probably my favourite as it has been core to the reason Siruma exist and I decided to start my own export operation! Sustainability is especially hot within specialty coffee right now, where most roasters first evaluate a company on their values and sustainable practices before they even decide to cup their coffee.
Four out of the eleven people that make up Siruma are working on sustainability, with one leader and three field agronomists – one in each region where Siruma does the field work. I personally think that we, as exporters, roasters, and clients in general, can really help the growers behind the amazing coffees we drink. So, sustainability has always made part of my purpose and vision for Siruma and our determination is only strengthened to see specialty roasters strive for this too and dig into the story behind each coffee they want to buy. I love the moment when we can host roasters in Colombia and connect them with the supply chains and the producers. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the work we do.
A few associations or growers are a bit shy or slow sharing their information, but most of the time it has more to do with a lack of cell signal or sometimes just not understanding the questions as such. Many of them process the coffee the traditional way, so they don’t even understand why we are asking them how many hours of fermentation they do or any other particulars, but they definitely do not see it as a concern.
From our side we are doing a lot of workshops to improve our actual supply chain. In a short term, we are looking to expand to other departments where we can find different profiles from the ones we are selling until today. There are several growers working on innovation, we are waiting to see what are the results on this. But, as always, we want to focus on a sustainable business. We really believe that all the parts of the chain need to be strong enough to function correctly. And that is our purpose here.