The Pickers Project

Across the coffee-growing countries of Latin America, an itinerant, rarely acknowledged workforce chases the harvest from farm to farm. Many of them are refugees displaced by calamities such as the civil war in Colombia or the economic crisis in Venezuela. Their job is to pick coffee in exchange for food, shelter, and piece wages (e.g. cash per kilogram harvested). Droves of these pickers are leaving the region altogether, seeking more stable and remunerative employment in the U.S. This compounds the challenges faced by smallholder farmers, leaving them without access to skilled labor at critical moments of their harvest. Furthermore, these critical moments have become harder to plan for in the face of a changing climate. At best, their quality suffers; at worst, they lose their crop.

In 2017, Azahar created the “Pickers Project” with the threefold goal of ending worker exploitation in coffee, solving farmers’ labor issues, and improving quality. Its Colombian foundation, Manos al Grano, now trains a team of fulltime pickers, which it deploys to its partner farmers. It pays them salaries with the same benefits its employees are entitled to, something virtually unheard of in the world of picking coffee.1

Participating farmers don’t have to scramble to find labor; now they have skilled workers on demand. Their harvest is largely pre-financed, as they pay for the cost of picking when they deliver their coffee and get paid themselves. The cost is still calculated on a “piece” basis, meaning they get the benefits of a piece wage system (e.g. no overhead) without subjecting workers to piece wage exploitation. They can streamline their operation, comply with labor laws, and increase quality, all at the same time. Meanwhile, roasters benefit from the increased quality and the certainty that they are not buying products harvested with illegal or exploitative labor practices.

How it works:

For a small premium per pound (approx. 55-95 cents FOB, depending on the quality), you can contract your coffee to be harvested by Manos al Grano

By choosing to contract your coffees this way, you are choosing to

  • Buy and sell coffees that respect national and international labor laws (yes, this is unique).
  • Help farmers navigate labor shortages, while reducing their exposure to labor infractions.
  • Increase farm workers’ pay and provide benefits, bringing them into the formal economy.
  • Alleviate producers’ cashflow issues.
  • Improve quality for everyone involved.

Want to learn more about the Project and legal labor in coffee?

Send us your contact info and we’ll get in touch with you soon.

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