food / travel

Avocado v. Coffee, A Battle For Colombian Farmland

There's risk of a veritable 'coffeecide,' as farmers are forgoing tradition and trying to cash in on the craze for Haas avocados.

Coffee plantation in Caldas, Colombia
Coffee plantation in Caldas, Colombia
Uriel Ortiz

BOGOTÁ — There's a crime being committed in certain areas of Colombia, and it has everything to do with Hass, as in the popular variety of avocados.

Hass avocados are all the rage, and to cash in, farmers in the country's coffee-growing lands are switching over to them. But the result is a veritable "coffeecide," the destruction of an area known as the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, or PCC in Spanish (Paisaje Cultural Cafetero). And it must be curbed as soon as possible.

Growing Hass avocados is a passing wave, but with lasting consequences. It's sweeping away this precious landscape — an area that earned an UNESCO heritage site designation in 2012 — as multinationals desperately buy up coffee plots only to cut down their trees and make way for avocados.

It is up to the mayors and mayoresses of the districts affected to take action, if they can...

Every productive project must have a chain of nine steps, as well as a strategic alliance to determine the viability of long-term production and sales. There then needs to be a sectoral association or union formed — with clear statutes and a legal authorities — to order the production and sale of the crop for presentation before official agencies.

When production isn't organized in this way, people rush to grow the crop in any old way, and the result is often bad production quality, mismanagement of harvests, inadequate storage and/or deficient packaging. And that, in turn, often means that harvests and produce are lost.

The legacy will likely be a desolate landscape, environmental ruin.

Unfortunately, certain products appear sometimes at that bat of an eyelash, and they seem like a great new opportunity. But it's important to take a step back, in such cases; to consider the larger picture so as to avoid repeating mistakes, like what occurred with passion fruit.

Many of our growers were instantly enthralled with passion fruit. But their luck soon ran out because they hadn't properly considered production costs, or analyzed national and international markets. Now the crop is disappearing, as are its promoters, who seem to have vanished!

Hundreds of small and mid-sized passion fruit producers are now in debt with local moneylenders or financial entities, and many are on the verge of losing their properties. All this because crafty promoters arrived from outside to egg them on, before leaving them to their fate once the bonanza flopped.

That, and worse, is precisely what is happening in the north of the Caldas department and other coffee-growing districts, with multinational firms buying land and destroying estates that have in some cases been producing coffee for more than a century.

Are Hass avocados responsible for "coffeecide"? — Photo: Adriana Ornelas Bernal/Wikimedia Commons

Across thee Coffee Axis there has been, in recent years, both enthusiasm for and grave concern over Hass cultivation for exportation. As a product that is taking international markets by storm, there is particular concern that it will all end up in the hands of the big firms, which are busy right now buying and cutting down coffee plots.

But what then happens when the Hass fad ends? The legacy will likely be a desolate landscape, environmental ruin. Not that the multinationals will care. Their only concern is to fill their coffers now before moving on to green pastures, never to return.

I have no idea how far local mayors in the affected regions can act to curb this wholesale massacre of traditional plantations, but at this rate the coffee sanctuary looks set to be wiped out by farmers determined to profit from a passing craze. The price will be the sacrifice of a coffee-growing tradition that is a source of pride to those of who were born and have passed parts of our lives in those lands.

At the very least, one must justifiably ask those launching into avocado farming to do so with due knowledge, and after rigorous studies backed by the relevant association able to guide them the right way. I also think we have every right to ask the avocado multinationals to join the northern Caldas farmers' union, and help forge a clear, joint policy that ensures the best course for all cultivators.

Above all, though, we must defend Colombia's Coffee Cultural Landscape.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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