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Colombia 2014 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Luis Genaro Muñoz, General Manager of Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, on the national significance of coffee and the pursuit of excellence to remain competitive.

Luis Genaro Muñoz
BIOGRAPHY
Luis Genaro Muñoz studied business administration at the University Jorge Tadeo Lozano, with graduate studies in Development Management at Inalde. He went on to become Administrative and Financial Director of Almacafé, Rector of the University Foundation of Popayán, Founding Rector of the Universidad del Istmo in Panama, and has also worked at senior level with Palma Oleaginosas Bucarelia and Palmeras de la Costa, before his current position.

What are the highlights of your strategy of the past decade?

Our main objective is to ensure the welfare of families involved in the coffee industry, as well as the communities around the areas where we grow coffee. There are over 560,000 families involved in the coffee industry, which equates to around 30% of the agricultural workforce. This proves the importance of the coffee industry in Colombia, as no other agricultural activity can be compared to it. Indeed, there is no other economic activity, beyond the energy sector, with a higher share in GDP. The main strategic lines of our policy over the past five years have targeted productivity, as in recent years the country has witnessed decreased production levels. We have also prioritized research, and safeguarding the environment. Related measures have enabled us to achieve a 30% rise in productivity, totaling over 11.5 million coffee bags.

In your opinion, what makes Colombian coffee among the best in the world?

Colombian coffee has traditionally enjoyed a high competitive level in international markets, and people are willing to pay extra for it. Over the past few years, Colombia has worked vigorously in several market niches toward greater specialization and certification in products, such as organic coffee. Today, 43% of the coffee Colombia sells abroad is recognized as extremely high-quality produce, and almost 60% of our exports comprise specialist coffee.

What is the social role of the Federation regarding the welfare of coffee producing families in Colombia?

We prioritize the social welfare of the communities around coffee production areas. That is why we implement several education programs, as well as work toward the preservation of the environment, fauna, and diversity of the communities. We recently exported the education model we use in our rural areas to Vietnam, another large coffee producer. These are just some examples of the wide variety of programs the Federation engages with to support the communities and the families involved in the coffee industry.

How would you assess the competitive level of the Colombian coffee industry?

Over the past four years, we have incorporated over 550,000 hectares into production, which has resulted in a 30% rise in productivity. If we compared Colombia's circumstances and production to that of neighboring markets, we have considerably improved our competitive level, as neighboring markets have suffered from unfavorable climatic conditions and high vulnerability to disease. The three key phrases defining Colombia's coffee industry are: being a major supplier, a reliable one, and purveyor of a high-quality product.

In your opinion, what are some of the key public measures that should be adopted to boost the development of the sector?

The government has provided the right type of support to the industry in terms of market price fluctuations; they have offered direct subsidies to prices in 2013-2014 that totaled $1.2 billion. The government has also provided valuable support to small coffee producers. In addition, we conduct joint research with the state to better reach the rural areas of the country. For example, the Federation has over 1,500 extension agents who provide a direct link to conducting successful research in the field.

How can the sector benefit from the several free trade agreements (FTAs) the country recently signed?

We greatly value the FTAs in place, as the sector exports 95% of its current production. These FTAs offer us greater opportunities, and fewer bureaucratic and tax barriers to reach new markets and boost our competitiveness.

What are your growth expectations for 2014 and 2015?

So far, 2014 has been a very positive year, and we expect to close it at the same level as 2013; this amounts to 11.5 million bags of coffee. We believe we must continue increasing our productivity, as the high-quality segments of the market have shown interesting dynamism, and we believe we can increase our market share here; gourmet and high-quality coffee consumption grows every year at an average rate of 5% to 6%, and we are a significant part of this market.