Sol de Mañana
The Sol de Mañana is a program designed and run by the Rodriguez family that is focused on trying to make the production model for small producers in Bolivia more sustainable.
Falling production in Bolivia
When we first started sourcing coffee from Bolivia in 2011, annual exports were around 70,000 bags (which, to put it in perspective, is equivalent to the annual output of one large farm in Brazil). Over the last two years this production has more than halved to a devastating 30,000 bags per annum.
There are several factors contributing to this decline. One is that coffee competes with the local coca industry, and coca is easier to pick, harvests all year round and often yields higher pro ts for farmers. The coca plantations have a devastating impact on the land and the communities in the long term; untouched rainforest is often illegally destroyed to plant coca, and a lack of shade trees leads to huge problems with erosion. The excessive use of biocides by coca producers in an effort to bolster their crops also renders the soil infertile over time, and the land is then abandoned as nothing else can be grown there.
The absence of a centralised body to support and promote coffee production also threatens the vitality of co ee trade in Bolivia. Unlike other coffee-producing countries, such as Guatemala or Brazil, coffee producers in Bolivia receive no support from the government or national agricultural bodies. Historically, a lot of support was given to the Bolivian coffee industry by the US (trying to encourage the growth of alternative crops to coca) however President Evo Morales, (who himself is an ex- coca grower) stopped accepting all US aid two years ago.
These factors, coupled with poor infrastructure, changing climate conditions, roya (leaf rust), and traditional, sometimes unsophisticated farming practices have led to a significant decrease in production over the past decade.
Building hope for the future
The good news is that there is hope for the future of coffee in Bolivia, thanks to the vision, determination and hard work of Pedro, Daniela and Pedro Pablo Rodriguez of Agricafe who have established the Sol de Mañana program which is focused on trying to turn around this trend and build a sustainable future for coffee production in Bolivia.
To combat the falling production, the Rodriguez family have identified the need to help increase the average producer’s yield:
Currently, the average production of a single producer is 2.5 bags of green coffee per hectare. Given the average producer has 1-3 hectares of land, this means they are only producing around 10 bags of coffee to survive.
To have a sustainable production model, coffee farmers in Bolivia need to be producing 30 – 35 bags of coffee per hectare. To address this problem, the Rodriguez family, throuh the Sol de Mañana program, which focuses on giving producers the skills and training they need to increase the quantity and improve the quality of their output.
Currently most coffee farms are what the Rodriguez family would classify as ‘silvestre’ or ‘wild’. Their aim is to educate the members of the program show them how to take a more systematic and scientific approach to coffee farming in order to help them increase their productivity.
At the Buena Vista mill, the Rodriguez family have built a model farm and nursery. ‘We want to show the producers how to set up good practices right from the start. We show them how to select good seedlings and prepare and look after the soil and care for the trees.’ Most producers do not prune their trees as they worry about the impact on yield. ‘We educate them about the importance of systematic pruning and show them how to do it.’
Agricafe hosts workshops with leading agronomists throughout the year. These forums allowed the producers to meet one another, share their experiences and discuss ways to tackle problems they are experiencing.
Pedro Pablo and Don Carlos (the head agronomist at Agricafe) also visit all of the members of the Sol de Mañana program every month and provide them with personalised technical assistance and agricultural advice. Even the simplest advice can go a long way. ‘We discovered some producers were not completely stripping their trees of beans at the end of harvest’ Daniela explained. ‘This is very important for productivity.’
The impact of this program has been profound, and way beyond the Rodriguez family’s expectations. The key to its success, according to Daniela is that the producers feel empowered.
“We are giving them the tools and know-how, but they are actively choosing to follow our advice and invest in their farms. Now they can see the results, they trust us 100% and helping their neighbours achieve similar results.”
This is exactly what the Rodriguez family want and need the program to do. To scale up the program, they intend to train leading famers within each of the colonies, with the idea that they will in turn share the knowledge they gain with the surrounding coffee community.
The Sol de Mañana program has required a huge investment of capital, time and resources from the Rodriguez family. But they genuinely believe in Bolivian coffee and care deeply about helping the producers they work with realise their potential and improve their lives.
And we are right there with them. The coffee in Bolivia is way too special, spectacular and close to our hearts to let it disappear. We want to be able to buy from the same producers every year, for many years to come. In the short term, this means paying higher prices to make it viable for our favourite producers to stay in coffee, as the building blocks are put in place to help them increase their yields and annual production. By demonstrating this commitment, we hope they will continue to investing coffee production and maintain their focus on quality, and that, with time, a more sustainable and vibrant future is built for coffee in Bolivia.