Cassiopeia Coffee Roasters forms links with Peru farmers

Zac Suito's parents left Peru 38 years ago to start a new life in the Blue Mountains. But this year the Katoomba resident has reconnected with his family's South American roots, working with a non-government organisation (NGO) and local exporter to support Peruvian coffee farmers.

"I've always wanted to do something in Peru. It's where my parents are from - and it has a lot of potential for coffee," said Mr Suito, the owner of Cassiopeia Coffee Roasters based in Katoomba.

Lith Montes Quispe, the co-ordinator of Peru coffee projects for NGO Rikolto, spent the last two weeks in the Blue Mountains working on the project and learning about coffee culture in Australia.

"I connect the business with producer," she said. "We create a space for the stakeholders in the chain to meet and discuss issues and opportunity as well as creating an inclusive and sustainable business model where the company and producers can be better off."

Mr Suito, 31, spent a month in the northern Peru region of San Ignacio during coffee harvest season this July.

"There's a lot of stuff you can only learn if you're on the ground," he said.

With an elevation of about 1600m, farmers in the region work 10 hour days during the harvest, carefully handpicking the coffee.

"If you've ever picked (coffee) cherry, it's actually very difficult. It's not fun," said Mr Suito. "You're on steep slopes, you're in the sun, and to produce 100kg of green coffee you need about 650-700kg of cherry which can take a picker a week to harvest."

After processing, the farmers then drive their harvest three hours along a dangerous road, before transporting it across a river on a makeshift pulley system, ahead of another hour's drive to the co-operative that exports the coffee. Mr Suito has been working with local exporter, Approcassi.

He said the local farmers are unfazed by this arduous process. "They see it as not a problem," he said.

Improving the quality of the coffee harvested - and therefore the price local farmers are paid for it - is one of the project's goals. Peru has many small farm holders with plantations less than one hectare.

"Many farmers struggle with post-harvest processes due to lack of basic equipment and knowledge," said Mr Suito. "This year we sponsored two farms to install drying tables which will increase quality as many small farms dry their coffee on plastic tarps on the ground where it's difficult to maintain a good temperature airflow and consistent drying.

"Our idea next year is that we will work with three neighbouring farms and use the infrastructure that we have to create some smaller microlots with a unique story and market them differently," he said.

"But this is only scratching the surface of the issues that small holders face and depending on the country, weather and demand for coffee, things can change. This is our plan but, hey, 'everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth'."