Preliminary Update on Recent Trip to Bolivia by Tripp Pomeroy

Written by Cafe Campesino on Jun 14, 2011 in POSTS FROM THE FIELD |
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On June 1st I wrapped up what was nothing short of a fantastic ten days in Bolivia, where I teamed up with Julia Baumgartner of Just Coffee and Brad Brandhorst of Larry’s Beans to assess and document our current trading relationships with Fecafeb and their members AIPEP, Mejillones, and Pasybol. The three of us went down on behalf of Cooperative Coffees under the auspices of the USAID “Farmer to Farmer” program. Our travels to Bolivia’s coffee country and meetings and interviews with our trading partners there reinforced how important direct, transparent relationships are and confirmed that the new commercialization team and board of directors of Fecafeb are more committed than ever to the core principles of fair trade and transparency. We left Bolivia feeling extremely fortunate to be working with our partners there. What follows is a quick overview of Fecafeb and what we learned about their plans for improving their coffee production. Stay tuned for updates on the individual coffee coops we met with – Mejillones, Pasybol, and AIPEP – in the next edition of Fair Grounds.

Fecafeb is Bolivia’s non-governmental coffee federation. It has 36 full members (individual coffee cooperatives) and 4 groups in process of becoming members. In all there are some 6,000 families belonging to the coops that constitute the organization. Fecafeb accounts for 80% of Bolivia’s exports (99% of members have 1/2 to 4 ha and very few have electricity). There are about 20,000 coffee producers in Bolivia but of Bolivia’s $15m total coffee exports, Fecafeb accounts for $11m with the rest commercialized through the country’s network of k’iros (aka. “coffee brokers”), making Bolivia a bona fide “small-scale producer” coffee country (and we like working with bona fide small scale producers).

Many of the coffee farmers with whom we met are descendants of folks who migrated from the Alto Plano of Bolivia, seeking work and financial opportunity. As a result, coffee farming has been a livelihood for many for only a few generations, consequently, coffee expertise, infrastructure, and systems are limited. Despite these limitations, the coffee we get from our partners in Bolivia is excellent, thanks to their hard work, diligence, fertile soil, and artisanal approach to coffee processing – from the farms to the hand selection of all the coffee we buy.

Fecefab has big plans for developing the infrastructure and technical support its members need not only to maintain their organic production systems but to improve them and their yields as well. Fecafeb’s current goal is to help its members triple their yields in the next five years. However, Fecafeb only has two extension agents now – Mateo Larico and Ruben Castillo – and they need a total of 20. Mateo and Ruben are extraordinary guys who are making the most out of their limited resources at present. They are awaiting word on proposals they have submitted that will dramatically expand their ability to provide technical support, develop the infrastructure their members need, and, ultimately lead to the increase in yields and quality they seek.

Right now, without adequate resources for face-to-face ag extension with all of its members, Fecafeb has chosen the radio as the most cost-effective medium for communicating with its geographically dispersed membership. They pay for a weekly radio program (on which we were interviewed for an hour during our visit) that airs every Monday from 10-11am. During this hour long show, technical support is provided to listeners throughout the coffee region, as is information about quality control and pricing. Fecefeb also coordinates its own internal “farmer to farmer” exchanges to help spread best practices throughout its members’ organizations. Exchanges with coffee producers from Peru, Nicaragua, and other coffee growing countries have also helped to improve practices. The proposals that they have submitted would provide funding to hire an additional 15 extension agents, build a seed and organic fertilizer production facility, and establish a loan facility for members to install new drying tables, among other things. These resources would also help them to address the other challenges their members face, which include: the age of the plants – much of the existing stock needs to be replaced with new plants; insufficient plant density – they believe that they need to almost double the number of plants per ha; and maintaining sustainable farming practices and, in particular, ensuring that the soil is fed with organic matter and microorganisms and that its biodiversity is maintained.

In the next edition of Fair Grounds, I’ll provide an overview of our journey and info about our coffee growing partners at Mejillones, Pasybol, and AIPEP.

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[…] trainings for coffee farmers around the world.  Learn more about Cooperative Coffees’ Farmer-to-Farmer trip to Bolivia in May where Café Campesino’s Tripp Pomeroy […]


 

[…] This visit was one of several that Cooperative Coffees will make to coffee producing countries this year as a part of the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program.  Workshops are planned with coffee producers in other countries including Peru, Uganda and Mexico.  Earlier this year Cafe Campesino’s Tripp Pomeroy volunteered on a USAID trip to Bolivia.  Learn more about that trip on Fair Trade Wire. […]


 

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