80 Stone Coffee recently visited Bolivia to find out more about organic coffee and the family run plantations in Bolivia. Whilst we were there, we visited Agricafe, the leading producer of specialty, single origin and microlot coffees in Bolivia. The Rodriguez family invited us to talk with them about organic coffee and their project called “sol de la manana”. Daniela Rodriguez spoke to us about the process of obtaining an organic certificate in Bolivia, and the struggles of some family run coffee plantations.
In this blog, we wanted to explain a little bit more about Agricafe and share our conversation with the coffee producers. Below, we have scripted our talk with the Rodriguez family.
Agricafe, Bolivian Speciality Coffee
The family run business has over 32 year experience with Bolivia coffee. Agricafe export high quality, single origin and micro lots from small producers. These producers can be found in the regions of, Yungas and, Santa Cruz, serving North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Specialising in South American specialty coffee, Agricafe initially entered the coffee industry in 1986, when Pedro Rodriguez decided to pursue his passion for agriculture.
The Agricafe business is relying on building on close relationships with producers to create exceptional coffees. With the help of international experts, Agricafe has introduced innovative educational programs and modern farming practises to Bolivia with the aim of further improving quality.
The business denotes strong core values of honest, equity, innovation, excellence, responsibility, integrity, commitment and loyalty.
Meet Pedro Rodriguez
Coffee Production in Bolivia
Coffee production in Bolivia goes back to the 1880’s. Originally, large landowners were the only producers of coffee, but this all changed in 1991. Coffee production in Bolivia has always been small, leaving the country a minor player in the global game. Sadly, in the last 10 years exports have continually dropped. For example, in 2010 the country was exporting roughly 70,000 bags of coffee, compared to 2017 at just 22,000 bags.
Agricafe took on the responsibility to revisit the trend and allow coffee producers to be paid a fair price for their hard work. To make a change, Agricafe introduced two programs “The Buena Vista Project” and the “Sol de la Manana Program”. Both programmes focus on supporting and sharing their knowledge with the coffee farming community, investing in improving the quality of coffee, being transparent in every stage of production and improving the extraordinary taste and developing a sustainable model and sustainable farms.
Sol de la Mañana program
2017 saw the first year of production for the 10 participants in this programme. Agricafe introduced this programme to help to increase the productivity of the farms, working with them to develop more sustainable produce. In turn, this would produce better quality coffee and provide farmers with fair prices that allow them to provide a better life to their families. The programme offers discounts on nutritional fertilizers and coffee support, as well as offering a monetary reward system for cups above certain quality scores.
Read our conversation with the Rodriguez family and understand what it’s like to be an organic coffee producer in Bolivia
Can you tell us a little more about your organic certification please?
We have to pay a lot for this certification. We could ask the producers to pay for the certification but they can’t afford it, so we pay. At Agricafe, we look after all the paperwork, we get everything in order and look after the whole process. That is not the only cost, on the other side, the roaster also has to pay the certificate company.
Every year, this certificate must be reviewed and controlled. It is planned audits to control that all the requirements are accomplished it is very expensive for us as well as time consuming. They control the mills, farms and documental paperwork. Will be very helpful some percentage of the total cost could be for the producer or at least the community could beneficial ( educational ). Producers are eager to learn new techniques.
I agree, in Europe we have a similar situation: small roasting companies like us also have to face high costs for the organic certification. I’ve got some clients asking for organic coffee, and we are not ab le to provide the certification even if some of our coffees are actually organic grown.
It is the same is here, maybe 90% of the coffee plantations are organic in Bolivia, but you have to apply to the producer and it takes roughly three years to be certified.
In Bolivia, where do you apply to be an organic producer?
There are some companies that look after the certification process in Bolivia, We work with Ceres from Germany, they have an office here. We apply with them.
Is it one fee per year?
It depends on the volume of coffee, but yes you must renew it every year. You must be checked for certain things and then they visit the producers. I think for the money we pay, they should at least have workshops with producers, explaining new techniques, methods to fight diseases and to treat the soil in an organic way, but is something that they don’t currently do.
Production is so tiny, that’s why it is very difficult to find specific fertilisers for coffee, so we have to try to look for expensive substitutes.
Nobody talks about how the processing water is disposed of, which is damaging to the environment and there are currently no checks on it. The coffee producers are responsible for the water treatment, but they are not being investigated by the organic certification companies.
What is the process for disposing of the processing water?
We have cans that filters the water. Once the water is clean, it is channelled into the river.
We started our programme as believe that it is our responsibility within this community to support farmers in need. We have been working with 10 producers for 10 years. We ask them to trust us, and they have to strictly follow our guidelines in order for us to help their coffee plantations.