Place in world as coffee exporter (14/15):
Sacks (60kg) exported annually (14/15):
Percentage of world coffee market:
Less than 1%
Other major agricultural exports:
Soybean, Banana, Maize, Sunflower products
Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood:
23,000 families or more
Typical Varieties Produced:
Arabica: Typica, Caturra, Criollo, Catuai & Catimor
Key Coffee Regions:
Caranavi, Coroico, Nor & Sud Yungas, Inquisivi, Provincia Ichilo, Samaipata & Mairana
Typical Harvest Times:
July - November
In Bolivia, specialty coffee is grown at an altitude of 1,200 to 2,000 metres above sea level and is primarily (90 per cent or more) centred in the Yungas and the province of Caranavi, located 3 hours northeast of La Paz. Other commercial commodity grade coffees are also grown at altitudes below 1,000 metres in the province of Santa Cruz.
There is very little available information about the origins of coffee production in the country; however, throughout most of the 20th century, coffee production was dominated by wealthy land owners with large farms. This system was disrupted in 1991, when governmental land reform mandated that larger landowners relinquish their holdings and return lands back to the families and communities who had original ownership. The resulting mosaic of small farms (approximately 3-20 hectares in size) is now responsible for producing the majority of the country’s coffee.
Despite the multiple challenges to coffee quality – including transport, lack of technical support and processing difficulties – Bolivia has in recent years made a great deal of headway in entering specialty coffee markets. The Cup of Excellence programme arrived in the country in 2004, at which point the Bolivian coffee community opened up to the world, a movement that was reinforced by investment by international development organisations interested in providing viable alternatives to coca production in the country. Indeed, the small-scale nature of the country’s production makes Bolivia a paradise for micro lots, and Bolivian farms are normally run and managed as family businesses where every member of the family contributes to all stages of production, thus contributing a unique quality to each farm’s production.
There are also a great number of cooperatives and associations officially linked to the Bolivian Federation of Coffee Growers and Exporters (FECAFEB) that are working to gain market access abroad.
Coffee production in Bolivia isn’t without its challenges. The country boasts the world’s most dangerous road, the infamous ‘Death Road’ that connects the Yungas coffee-growing region with the capital, La Paz. For the last 30 years, agricultural trade was transported along this road creating huge bottlenecks and numerous fatal accidents. It took 3 decades and 10 governments to build the new highway, which has been operating since 2006, by-passing to the north one of the most dangerous sections of the old 'Death Road'. As a result, agricultural transportation and the development of the Yungas region have been massively improved. Nonetheless, the country is landlocked, and exports are typically shipped out of Peru, meaning that transport is not always straightforward.
Furthermore, the recent arrival of coffee leaf rust in the country has had severe implications for yields in a country where many farms are ‘passively’ (i.e. not certified) organically farmed. There is a fear that many farmers will return to focusing on coca, which tends to be less labour-intensive than coffee. Mercanta’s partners in Bolivia, however, are making sure this doesn’t happen by providing small producers with resources and training to improve coffee yields and quality.
For the most part, coffee cherries are washed by the wet method and mostly dried on African beds (necessary due to the high altitudes and low temperatures). Depending on the distance of the farm from the nearest mill, coffee cherries may be delivered direct for processing or the coffee may be pulped at the farm, dried and delivered in parchment.