Co.Design

Parsons Student Relieves The Back-Breaking Work Of Coffee Picking

Gabriela Ravassa’s Coco bucket is designed to reduce injuries in bean pickers, the unsung heroes of Colombia’s coffee industry.

Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee a day—that’s 4,600 cups every second—but pay little heed to how their beverages are produced: In Colombia, the second largest coffee grower in the world, bean cherry pickers are forced to negotiate treacherous terrain, while hauling around as many as 170 pounds of beans in large, awkward buckets that stress their bodies and can lead to severe musculoskeletal injuries—all for about $16 a day.

Determined to improve pickers’ working conditions, Parsons product-design student (and native Colombian) Gabriela Ravassa set her sights on redesigning the picking container. The existing buckets—which resemble oversized sand pails that you strap around the waist—put undue strain on workers’ backs and have sharp edges that dig into the thighs, leaving bruises. They’re also difficult to grasp. That increases the chances of dropping coffee beans and can decrease producers’ bottom line. In Ravassa’s telling, farm owners already spend extra money on accessories designed to reduce spillage; they might as well just invest in better buckets.

Ravassa calls her bucket Coco (Colombian slang for "picking container") and though it doesn’t look terribly different from what’s already out there, it includes some key enhancements. "I chose to stick with the standard bucket since it maintains the picking techniques and tools that have been successfully used for more than 170 years," she tells Co.Design. "However, I’ve made radical changes."

An indent at the bottom of the bucket mimics the angle of our legs when we walk, eliminating bruising. The waist strap is modeled after kidney belts—those girdle-like elastic bands that laborers wear around their lower backs to gird against strains during heavy lifting. (Ravassa even included a custom clasping system in hopes of encouraging farm owners to purchase straps and belts together.) And a "continuous handle" inspired by three-handle laundry baskets allows workers to grab the containers securely, cutting back on accidental drops.

Ravassa says that she can manufacture the buckets out of injection-molded recycled polypropylene and sell them for $20.20 each; existing buckets go for about $15.75. In a system where workers earn just 20 cents for every pound of beans they pick, it might be tough to convince farm owners to shell out an extra $5 for revamped containers. But Ravassa believes that the benefits justify the costs: Improve workers’ comfort and you can also improve their productivity.

[Images courtesy of Parsons]

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11 Comments

  • Torrefaccion Siemon

    Saludos from Puerto Rico!

    We're also interested in volume purchase.  Any information would be hightly appreciated!

    torrefaccionsiemon @gmail.com

  • Greg Stille

    Aloha from Piliani Kope Farm, Maui HI. With are harvest comming up how can we get your new picking Coco? The Maui Coffee Association, 40+ farms would like to talk abought a volume purchase.
    Greg Stille Piliani Kope Farm
    President of the Maui Coffee Association
    gjstille@aol.com

  • BlueHorse KonaCoffee

    Kona, Hawaii is paying $0.50 cents per pound of picked coffee. We also pay $28 - $35 for picking buckets. Consider that we have 700+ farms and you can see the potential! Many of our gentlemen farmers also don't shy away from equipment costs.

    Kauai and Maui islands in Hawaii have many coffee farms. Puerto Rico also has a growing estate coffee industry. So the wealthier US market is not to be overlooked!

    Great design! Consider them bought if produced.

  • Brian Prentice

    I'm a design newbie, but the thing I consider the most exciting designs are those that bring into focus problems which are ignored. This is a brilliant piece of problem analysis. I only hope the 28% cost premium doesn't kill this. I wish you all the success with this Ms. Ravassa. This is an inspirational piece of work.

  • tobias

    It's things like these that improve the condition of the workers but it's far from solving their problems. Very nice still.

  • Neil Maree

    Excellent and innovative!  I hope we can see more such products in coffee producing countries!  Have you entered the African coffee industry yet?

  • Danny

    This is very interesting. Thoughtful design. A big issue with the current buckets used is durability. Will the polyprop be able to withstand drops while holding a full load?