Authored by Paul Rice,

Fair Trade USA


The mountains of Cauca are the source of five of Colombia’s main rivers, which supply fresh drinking water to more than 70 percent of Colombia’s urban population.

Yet for many people in rural areas of Cauca and Nariño, where coffee farmers live and work, clean drinking water remains an elusive hope.

In a survey administered by Fair Trade USA and Nespresso, over half of Cauca-based coffee farmers indicated that the water was either somewhat or very polluted. A quarter stated that someone in their household had suffered from a water-borne illness.

Next door, Nariño faces its own water crisis as a drought-prone region with a history of insufficient focus by the country’s central government. Both departments run the risk of environmental damage and illness, affecting the lives of thousands of people. 


Since partnering in 2013, Fair Trade USA and Nespresso have worked to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to AAA coffee-farming communities in Colombia. The Fair Trade model, which was created in partnership with farmer organisations, advocates, and the industry, supports coffee farmers in two main ways: The Fair Trade Minimum Price, which serves as an important safety net when the price of coffee dips to unsustainable lows; and the Fair Trade Community Development Funds – extra income generated through each Fair Trade purchase that farmers democratically designate to address their most pressing needs. Throughout the world, coffee farmers have used the funds for a wide range of initiatives, from productivity and quality improvement, to education and health clinics. Together, they serve as a lifeline to coffee farmers in regions like Cauca and Nariño, enabling them to shape their communities and futures based on their unique needs. 













Given the water crisis, it’s no surprise that both Cauca and Nariño decided to make clean drinking water a priority. Farmers in Cauca voted to use their Community Development Funds – in this case paid by Nespresso – to build water treatment plants on local aqueducts in 2016. Working with Fair Trade USA and Nespresso AAA consultants, they hired a local chemical engineer to develop a low-cost plan. Construction of the first treatment plants began in November 2017, and members of the community began drinking clean water not long after. 

In 2018, inspired by the work in Cauca, Fair Trade Certified™ coffee farmers in Nariño voted to use their Community Development Funds to expand the project to their region. 
To date, there are 43 operational aqueducts. By the time the project is completed in 2022, clean water will be available to over 11,000 households in Cauca and 15,000 in Nariño, plus all schools, community centres, and health centres in the area. This will directly impact over 44,000 people in these two regions with the health benefits of clean, safe drinking water.


Ensuring the prosperity and wellbeing of coffee farmers is the central aim of the Nespresso AAA Program. Thanks to our partnership, we’re able to work together with farmers on the ground – putting them in the driver’s seat as they tackle the challenges facing their communities.

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