Specialty groups like Cooperativa Agropecuaria Bio Arabica (Bio Arabica) deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to Bolivia's coffee potential, despite the odds. Bio Arabica is a young coalition, established only in 2017 as a formally certified cooperative. However the roots of the organization go back a few more years, to January 2013 when 12 coffee producing families came together to improve their organic practices and export coffee themselves. In 2014 a communal nursery was constructed, and in 2015 the first farmland renovation—8 hectares and 32,000 seedlings—was completed across various members’ parcels. By 2018 the coop was formulated, certified, and continued to increase annual renovations. Today the group has 42 total producer members, 19 women and 23 men with an average of 4 hectares of coffee each. 2019 was the first harvest that brought a Fairtrade premium to the group, which was spent on technical assistance and other small necessities decided upon together by the producers.
All participating farmers grow a combination of Caturra, Catuaí, and Typica cultivars, an increasing number of which are sourced from the central nursery. During harvest individual coop members process coffee at home on personal equipment, sorting and depulping cherry by hand, fermenting in small containers, washing with local fresh water, and drying parchment on individual raised screen beds in the sun. Parchment storage and quality control is handled in El Alto, the neighbor city to La Paz, where final coffees are inspected, hand sorted, and blended for shipment.
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 province 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 a strong farmer-founded support network like Bio Arabica all work undeniably in coffee’s favor in Caranaví. 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.