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The Digital Initiative
By Augustus Farragut

Cecafe brings the digital era into rural schools and institutions within the coffee growing regions of Brazil.

There is a goal that many socially responsible companies and organizations have, which is to do good by doing the right thing well. Cecafe, believing that the digital world is a great equalizer and a powerful tool in achieving social inclusion through increased knowledge, took the necessary steps to improve rural education and turn this theory into practice. The first step was to test this hypothesis and determine the needs of a number of rural schools in specific coffee growing regions. They performed this through an extensive survey, whose overwhelming response was: “Please bring us the digital world.”

With this, the digital initiative was born, and with it the “Projeto Crianca do Café na Escola,” which roughly translates to “Children of Coffee in School Project.” This, in fact, is one of the goals of the project - to keep children in school. Guilherme Braga, executive director of Cecafe, commented on this objective, and the profits attained through this venture. “Brazilian coffee exporters strongly believe that an improvement in education - within impoverished rural areas - is a long term investment that will bring enormous benefits to the sustainability of the coffee supply chain.”

Due to Cecafe’s well-researched and established logic, a plan was developed to provide a classroom with 10 computers and ancillary equipment, such as desks, chairs, cables, etc. Also, to train the current school staff on the use of computers, primarily from an educational standpoint, as well as develop a program to make these more accessible to the entire community on a regular basis. The chosen school was located near Espirito Santos do Pinhal in Minas Gerais. Two local Brazilian companies, Sumatra and Costa Café, along with the Spanish roaster, Icona, agreed to underwrite the pilot in conjunction with Cecafe.

The project, which was launched in November 2003, was a resounding success. Children that once had no prior exposure to computers, progressed quickly, and were soon completely comfortable and literate with the technology. Karen Ariano, the manager of this project, said, “They are poor and humble, but they know exactly what they want - information, knowledge, and - above all - opportunity.”

Once it was clear that the project was effective and running, Cecafe dedicated additional resources, while other exporters stepped forward to help fund additional installations. Some of the participating exporters are: Alfenas Café, Branco Peres, Comexim, Cooperativa Guaxupe, Costa Café, Exportadora Guaxupe, Esteve, Exprinsul, Grao Verde, Icatu, Marcellino Martins, Stockler, Sumatra, Unicafe, Valorizacao, Veloso, Volcafe. These usually choose schools in areas that have a strong link and correlation with the farmers and other coffee workers.

The exporters are not the only participants, as some roasters, such as Icona and Lavazza, have also become highly involved with the formulation of this project. Lavazza, for example, has contributed by supporting seven schools in 2005. They are looking to participate again in 2006, by supplying an additional 10 schools. This effort coincides very well with the program’s overall procession. In 2004, seven schools were added, with 15 more the following year. In 2006, they are expecting to complete 19, which will bring the total to 42. Although no plans have been formulated for 2007, non-Brazilian firms can contact Cecafe to sponsor maintenance programs in the existing schools, or simply sponsor the development of additional ones.

Through the years, with the project’s rapid growth, Cecafe acquired, Juliana Buton, who has 10 years of experience and an advanced degree in Psycho-Pedagogy. Buton was contracted to monitor the schools’ use of the computers, making sure that they are used for the entire curriculum and are accessible to the community at large. In addition to helping write lesson plans, which utilize the computers for most subjects, she submits regular reports on the schools’ progress to Cecafe, as well as to the sponsoring exporter. This helps to cement the bond between the exporter and the community, which is further evidenced by the companies sharing their IT personnel, when technical problems arise.

With the foundation almost established, the next phase is to get all 42 schools online and initiate the “Informed Producer” program. For this, Cecafe will need to send agronomical technicians to the schools to utilize the computers and give various presentations on improved agricultural practices. The plan is to do this via video conferencing, which will enlarge the pool of presenters. The goal is a better-educated and more prosperous producer that will contribute to the sustainability and ever-improving quality of Brazilian green coffee.

For more information, visit www.cecafe.com.br, or e-mail Cecafe@cecafe.com.br.

About the Author: Augustus Ferragut has been traveling to origin for decades, observing anything and everything about the tea and coffee industries.

Tea & Coffee - June/July, 2006

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