Bolivian coffee is just beginning to make a name for itself in the world of specialty coffee. Once considered a producer of low-quality coffee, suitable only for mixed cakes, Bolivia is working to change its image one grain at a time. For this extremely poor country, it is about creating the infrastructure, technology, and skills needed to produce a quality product that supports economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Initiatives such as fair and green trade, together with economic development projects have provided opportunity and support to coffee producers locally, nationally, and internationally.
Geography and Environment
Bolivia is located in the western heart of South America and covers an area of 1,098,581 square kilometers - about three times larger than Montana. Two chains of the Andes Mountains stretch west of Bolivia and shape the country's three major geographic regions: the mountainous mountain ranges and Altiplano in the west, the semitropical Yungas, and temperate valleys of the eastern mountain slopes, and the low tropical areas that stretch north and east, known as the Orient.
Bolivia's coffee production is concentrated in rural Yungas, where about 95% of cultivation is produced. Other growing regions include Santa Cruz, Beni, Cochabamba, Tarija, and Pando. While there are commercial farms and haciendas, government land reforms have expropriated most of the large real estate properties and redistributed them back to rural farming families. These small plots range from 1 to 8 hectares and produce between 85-95% of Bolivia's coffee, mostly Arabica and organically grown.
Bolivia has all the ingredients to be a producer of high-quality coffee, such as altitude, fertile soil, and a consistent rainy season. However, rugged terrain and a lack of infrastructure and technology make post-harvest quality control a daunting task. Funds from development agencies work to establish processing facilities in rural areas so that farmers have access to resources that will help ensure quality beans while adding value to their products.
Across the industry, 28 private companies control more than 70% of the coffee export trade. The remaining percentage is traded by the 17 coffee cooperatives in Bolivia. Both the private and cooperative sectors are members of the Bolivian Coffee or Cobolca Committee. Most (green) grains from Bolivia are exported to the United States, Germany, and other parts of Europe, the Russian Federation, and Japan.
Bolivian Coffee Plant Varietals
Most coffee plants grown in Bolivia belong to the variety of Typica coffee plants (Coffea arabica var. Typica), although there are also some Caturra plants (Coffea arabica var. Caturra).
Small coffee farms do not have access to adequate fertilizers and minerals to support the optimal growth of coffee trees and beans, resulting in low crop yields in recent years. The lack of infrastructure also means that Bolivia has difficulties in exporting to other countries, but is occasionally available from green coffee importers in the United States and Canada.
Distributors and brokers continue to develop the wholesale coffee trade in Bolivia and should have good growth in the coming years.
Organic And Fair Trade Coffee In Bolivia
Also grown in Bolivia is a significant amount of organic coffee and fair trade coffee. In recent years, Bolivia has made significant gains in the quality of its methods of processing unroasted green coffee beans. Coffee grown in the shade is also a fairly common practice.