On September 19 we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Santiago Sabogal, Green Coffee Manager – in the Japan, Asia Office of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia. Where the Colombian Japanese Chamber was able to learn about his experience and experiences with this country, as well as different projects that the Federation is carrying out for the Japanese market.
By: Leslie Benitez-International Business Assistant, Seleny Santamaria-Research Assistant from the CCJCI .
Colombian Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Mr. Santiago, could you tell us an overview of the mission and main objectives of the National Federation of Coffee Growers and its importance in the relationship with Japan and the Colombian market through an effective union organization, democratic and representative?
Santiago Sabogal: It is important to keep in mind that, although we are in the business of marketing and exporting coffee, the mission and nature of the Federation are very different from many exporters who dedicate themselves solely to that. The Federation's mission is much more social, and that is why it is considered more like a rural NGO, where the main mission is to ensure the well-being of producers in Colombia. Many topics, projects and programs are derived from this, such as free technical assistance, research and development around coffee, the promotion of Colombian coffee at a national and international level and the purchase guarantee, which is the buyer of Colombian coffee from last instance. Therefore, many programs are derived from that mission, as you mentioned.
Regarding the relationship with Japan, this country has always been very interesting in every way, not only in terms of coffee. The Federation decided to open an office in Japan in the 1960s to open the market, taking into account its potential. Over the years, Japan has become a very important market for Colombian coffee, both in terms of volume and value. Historically, it has been one of the main destinations for Colombian coffee exports, behind the United States, which is the largest market for Colombian coffee. Japan's importance has been constant since then.
CCJCI: What are the challenges facing the industry today and how are they being addressed?
SS: The challenges of the industry, from our perspective as representatives of producers in Colombia, are more focused on the origin, that is, on what is happening in Colombia. One of the biggest challenges is price, as producers are subject to the volatility of international prices, which can make the price unsustainable in the long term. Another important challenge is climate change, which has affected coffee production in Colombia with phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, changes in temperatures and the reduction of growing areas.
In addition to these economic and environmental challenges, there are also social challenges, such as lack of connectivity, access roads and access to health services in rural areas. The Federation has been working on these issues since its inception, but there will always be challenges in this area.
CCJCI: What are the main short and long-term priorities and goals for the National Coffee Growers Federation in the Japan market in the coming years?
SS: Priorities and goals in the Japan market are diverse and change over time. As the Japanese market has become more mature, the main priority is to maintain the presence of Colombian coffee in Japan. However, there is also a focus on sustainability issues, given Japan's interest in sustainable goals for 2030 and 2050, such as decarbonization and reforestation.
The Federation has also developed international cooperation projects with Japanese companies that invest in Colombia, which has led to social projects that, in turn, can lead to commercial projects. The Japanese market is experiencing changes in consumer trends, and it is important to adapt to these trends and offer products that meet consumer demands.
CCJCI: How has coffee consumption developed in Japan?
SS: Japan has always been a very interesting country in every way, not only in terms of coffee. The Federation opened an office in Japan in the 1960s and strove to open the Japanese market because of its potential. Over the decades, Japan went from being a primarily tea-consuming country to a country with a growing interest in coffee. Currently, coffee consumption in Japan is very large and represents a mature and stable market. Additionally, we have seen an increase in interest in quality coffee and coffee trends such as specialty coffees. The cafes are full of people, including young Japanese. In summary, the development of coffee consumption in Japan has gone from being a country of tea consumers to becoming an important market for Colombian coffee.
CCJCI: How does the National Federation of Coffee Growers promote innovation and the adoption of new technologies within the industry?
SS: The Federation works on several fronts to promote innovation and the adoption of new technologies in the coffee industry. This includes research and development projects in areas such as coffee quality, fermentation, drying and agronomic technology. The aim is to develop technologies that help reduce production costs and improve coffee quality.
In addition, assisted harvesting projects and machinery have been developed that help reduce harvesting costs. The Federation also focuses on sustainability and social responsibility issues, promoting sustainable practices on coffee farms.
CCJCI: Can you share any anecdotes or personal experiences that have had a significant impact on your leadership of the Federation in Japan?
SS: Through my experience in Japan, I have learned a lot about the culture and adapting to cultural differences. Learning the Japanese language has helped me relate better to Japanese companies and clients. This experience has opened my mind and allowed me to better understand the opportunities that exist in Japan. It is a fascinating country worth exploring.
CCJCI: What is your level of Japanese after several years working in Japan, is it easy to learn?
SS: I consider that I have a not very advanced level of Japanese. I came to study at the Japanese Institute before COVID and that's why I couldn't continue. I went through several institutes and the truth is that it is very interesting. It is not difficult as one might think for us who speak Spanish in Colombia, which makes the pronunciation of Japanese much easier. This means we have some advantages.
CCJCI: What advice would you give to young people interested in Japan, whether to study, work or visit?
SS: My advice to those interested in Japan is not to see this country as something distant or inaccessible. There are many opportunities to study, work or visit Japan, and the knowledge and experience you gain is invaluable. In addition, learning the Japanese language can open many doors and facilitate communication with companies and clients.
I would encourage young people to consider Japan as a viable option. We often see Japan as something far away and difficult, but in reality, there are many opportunities and much to learn from Japanese culture. Studying, working or visiting Japan opens your mind and helps you relate better to people from different cultures. It is a valuable experience that I would recommend to other interested young people.