Specialty groups like AGRICAFE deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to Bolivia's coffee potential, despite the odds. AGRICAFE was established in 1986 and is a family business that manages 12 of its own farms as well as smallholder coffee from across Caranaví and Samaipata. Their smallholder program, “Sol de Mañana”, began in 2013 with 10 small producers and a curriculum focused on nursery and farm management, and specialty harvesting. Organic fertilizers were made available to participants at half price and each individual coffee tree was tracked for pruning, inputs, productivity and picking. This granular attention to detail forced previously passive producers to take charge of their productivity and quality. When the first commercial harvest was sold in 2017, the success of the program attracted more producers. It currently has 100 contributing farms and average production has increased from 3 bags per hectare to more than 20, with qualities better each year.
All coffee from “Sol de Mañana” producers is processed centrally by AGRICAFE on their own estates. This particular coffee is comprised of 50 small farms from the Bolinda municipality, in the mountains north of Caranaví. Farms average between 2-5 hectares and all harvesting is managed by family labor. At AGRICAFE’s nearby estate cherry is delivered each evening, depulped and fermented for 16 hours, washed and then dried mechanically in slowly-rotating drums.
Bolivia is South America's only landlocked coffee producing country, and is the smallest exporter of coffee on the continent. The quality of that coffee, however, is hardly lacking in diversity or beauty. Bolivia’s terrain and geography is gifted for arabica production, particularly throughout its greater Yungas region (Yungas is Aymara for "warm lands"), whose mountain ranges connect the low and humid Amazonian basin to the dry Andean altiplano above.
The most productive municipality in the Yungas is by far Caranaví, where 85-90% of Bolivia's specialty coffee has continued to thrive over the decades. Caranaví's landscape is steep, cloudy, rugged, and remote, with natural forest making up more than 90% of the territory. Coffee farms in this high and tropical climate tend to be well-managed but small, challenged by isolation and lacking in long-term industry support. Bolivian growers still often don’t have processing equipment or transportation of their own, a massive hurdle in such territory.
Biodiversity, soil health, elevation, and progressive leadership in AGRICAFE all work undeniably in coffee’s favor. Yet, facing each and every Bolivian coffee, especially the best ones, is one of the most strenuous overland transits in the coffee world, passing elevations of 4000 meters over the top of the Andes and west to the port of Arica on Chile’s coast. The country’s low production, select few producer groups in the specialty game, and formidable logistical challenges, means each and every arrival is something to be cherished.