Come along with us as we take you inside the minds and hearts of the people who call the Coffee Axis their home!

A Bigger Dream

Far right, Dr. Angelo Quintero telling us his story.

Former Secretary of Agriculture, and previously as Secretary of the Competitiveness of Manizales – Angelo Quintero Palacio has accomplishments to be proud of. With achievements in the area of local products and international exportation, he is now pursuing a bigger dream for tourism and visibility of the Department of Caldas, as Governor. We were able to catch up with him for a few minutes and learn a bit more about who he is and what he is doing!

The Interview

Note: This interview was transcribed from a voice recording and then translated into English. I added some details to the comments [in brackets] to help further convey the original feeling with as much accuracy as possible.

How can we commercialize tourism in Caldas?

We have a lot of work to do. We need to be active in the Social Media networks, the channels of tourism marketing. In general, we don’t do many fun trips, or even workshops to [help others] know our department, our environment and all the attractions we have in Caldas. [We need to] work more with our environmental opportunity based on what the market is asking for today. We must [create] visibility based on our targets [or intended purpose].

How can people [here] create visibility for their products without so many intermediaries?

I think the question is part of the answer. What we have tried to do with Origen Caldas (local product shops here in Manziales), is to take advantage of the human talent, all this knowledge, ancestral knowledge, to industrialize it, [make a business of it], in order to create regional and national recognition. Why not [make it] international? And, we have achieved that. Take chocolate [for example]. Our ancestral chocolate preparation, our grandmothers made balls out of the chocolate. They would last 4 or 5 weeks. And, they went along [as an important dietary staple] with the great mule trains we once had.

Our culture was ancestral, which became standardized [in modern times]. [Now], you design a package, comply with governmental regulations to become a bigger entity, with the guarantee of peace by the consumer that it will not cause harm to their health.

How do we conserve the culture and traditions of small producers so that they stay in the farm?

The only way is [by] giving intermediation. To ensure higher yields [or income], allowing you to continue to live [and produce] on your own land. That [small farmers] educate their children to become entrepreneurs on their own farm. This is the first [step].

In our culture, it is normal for our parents to teach us to [go do] something different than what our parents do. They don’t educate their children [to continue] with the family tradition, more like the opposite. Other alternatives are preferred for our children. We must work with them [parents] socially and sensitize them. That they will value their ancestral connection, to value the rural property they have, but in addition fortify the same with capital that beyond cultural, is monetary and already invested [in the land and equipment].

How can we create visibility for these (local) brands?

First, the producer must empower their product and their brand. When they empower their brand, they have more pride and the desire to have others know [about it].

Every third Saturday of the month at Universidad de Caldas, local organically grown products are available at the local farmers market.

Second, as a region, we have the denomination “de origen,” [from origin.] With this base, we earn [create], a space in a regional and national context.

Third, and what for me is the most important, is the distribution channel. We [these brands] are now in Exito, “del Centro” supermarket, and Mercaldas supermarkets.

Why did Quindio achieve becoming a tourism powerhouse after the earthquake?

Quindio took advantage of a calamitous situation created by the earthquake. Why? To potentialize their touristic attractions. They stopped focusing on coffee [production], and focused on tourism. Meanwhile, we are more focused on coffee production. They were dependent on the grand hacienda [or big farms], which they had, to convert them into hotels and begin to promote tourism in the department of Quindio.

While we [continued] to promote our coffee as the best coffee of Colombia, they promoted Quindio as the best tourist destination in Colombia. This is the difference that put them in first place, in the coffee axis for tourism.

What is the type of tourism to complement that of Quindio? Yet, how can we distinguish ourselves apart from them at the same time?

The department of Caldas has a historic center which Quindio doesn’t. All the construction in our historic center are not only ornamental: The cathedral, the governors office, the surrounding buildings, the old train station, we have a lot of potential.

The theme of birdwatching, for the number of species we have. Only five minutes from the Plaza Bolivar, we have over 350 species which can be seen in only one place. So, people have an important number of species which they can come and see.

And, we have the theme of biodiversity. More than the birds, the orchids, the butterflies and the native animals. A wildlife and wilderness that is very important. Things you don’t see in Quindio.

We also have to work on multi-destination [opportunities]. Work on [being a part of an itinerary that includes] Cartagena, Coffee Axis, Macchu Pichu. All these strategies which will help us grow and gain strength.

How do you see Caldas?

A department that is evolving. In the agricultural sector, we are dedicated [almost exclusively] to coffee and raw materials [i.e. for construction]. But, we are evolving other crops, we have 11 productive chains who are complying with the agreements of competitiveness. To state it in clearer terms, these chains are evolving in producing products. They are developing short and medium term thinking [or visions] to become more competitive and produce products [which will be sent] around the world. In this last generation of food production, we are producing food [which will] increase our quality of life.

The water. We have many rivers. [Because of this], we are working on the generation of renewable energy. This is very important work. We are considering the idea of generating energy without pollution. We are also considering “wind” energy because we have the snowy [mountains]. On these [snowy] slopes at the top of the central corridor of the Andes Mountains, there is wind energy potential which is going to waste. There are hot currents of La Magdalena and the Cauca, where the winds converge. And [we are] thinking about tourism development.

A topic which we haven’t [previously] mentioned. Manizales, the Capital of Caldas, is the University City of Colombia. This has allowed us various [benefits]. We have research groups, qualified manual [labor] talent, and we are generating spaces to innovate science and technology [for the benefit of] the world. Our department is recognized at an international level for the qualities we have. We are [also] looking to make technological developments to sell to multinational companies all over the world, and bring them here [to do business with us.]

What can we do to bring foreigners to live or invest here? So that they know Caldas and decide to stay?

Whoever arrives in Manizales, does not want to leave Manizales. Because of this, you come and you don’t want to leave.

First, to invest in Manizales, comes at a very low cost. [You can] buy a big and good quality apartment very inexpensively. People here are kind, warm and helpful. In addition to that, they can come and set up a company in Manizales in only one day. This city [Manizales], has the greatest facility for doing business. We are first place [on a national level] for Doing Business, since 2009. We have been first place [in Colombia] for the last 10 years as the easiest place in which to do business. Nine years ago it took 35 days business days. Today, you can open a bank account, file papers at the notary and be open in one day. Our city offers a 10 year tax extension to businesses which generate employment.

All the institutions work hand in hand with employers so they can move forward with productive projects. Can be industry, information technology, or any productive process. We are all working as a team looking to see that entrepreneurs do well and generate employment.

What is your public politic? How do you plan to govern?

We have been working for the last 15 years to improve the quality of life in Caldas. The first thing we did was internationalize agriculture. In Caldas, coffee was produced, and exported green. We export green coffee, but we also produce ground, roasted and packaged coffee to be send abroad. We export flowers. We export Haas avocados. We export banana snacks. Also uchuva gulupa and ginger. This has permitted us to internationalize agriculture taking it from a subsistence peasant culture to creating business in the rural areas.

Dr. Angelo Quintero Palacio speaking at a recent tertulia focused on generating more tourism.

In 2014 we created a public policy to develop the farms for the department of Caldas. It was the first [of its type] in Colombia. Even the [federal] Department of Agriculture didn’t have it. We made it. What did this permit us [to do]? To advance. Advance the technology and create business in the rural sector to impact production. In the end it resulted in generating more than $400,000,000 dollars in exportation. A grand amount of money which has been added to the department of Caldas which has allowed us to achieve three things: 1. Public Policy in favor of the development of the territory. 2. Allowed people to appropriate [the opportunity] to channel resources and focus them where it is the most needed. And not according to a political whim of a person in power, who is trying to generate their own employment and profits. 3. [Impact] on the way we govern. By the people for the people. From the bottom up, not from a person who is imagining in their own mind how to use the money, but from a collective solution to the problems we have in this territory.

One last question. What is family?

Family is the stability of a person. When you have a family you have commitment. When you have a commitment you have duties. Those duties are to stay in the family and educate the children, [to ensure] that it grows, to pass on a legacy of good practices, culture, honesty and good principles. Right? Family for me is a fundamental part of the developmental strategies of the territory. Also tradition. Your family moves you to do things that cause you to transcend.

Conclusion

This article is not intended to cast our dice into the election pool and trump Dr. Angelo above any other candidate. Only to demonstrate to our readers a set of values and cultural perspective, which we feel aligns with ours, and which we feel will make a difference going into the future. We would like to give a huge thanks to all the people who made this interview possible. Dr. Angelo Quintero for giving us his valuable time, and those who came to assist with the photography, and recording of the interview.

Stay tuned as this is only the first episode in a series of articles where we will continue to interview people from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds. It is our mission to give a deeper perspective into the culture and lifestyle of the Coffee Axis of Colombia.