This coffee was produced by Julio Paye Mamani and Lupe Medina from Copacabana, a small and remote settlement located 180km from La Paz, in the heart of the Caranavi province.
The region’s with incredibly high altitudes, rich soil, and wide daily temperature ranges are the perfect conditions for growing high quality coffee, and the region is the heart of specialty coffee production in Bolivia.
Coffee was first farmed in Copacabana around 40 years ago, and farms in the region are still small and traditional. Almost all work is carried out by farm owners and their extended families, with a handful of temporary workers taken on to help out during harvest.
All of the producers at Copacabana were born into the Aymara, an ancient indigenous group that lived on the Altiplano (a vast plateau of the central Andes that stretches from southern Peru to Bolivia and into northern Chile and Argentina). The region was known for the world’s highest lake, called Titicaca, and when their families moved to Caranavi, they named their ‘colony’, or settlement, Copacabana.
Julio and Lupe have a three-hectare farm called San Bartolomé, named after Julio’s father. Julio has lived in the region since he was a child, later inheriting the farm.
For many years Julio and Lupe (like many families in Copacabana) sold their coffee on the local market, meaning low prices and little reliability. Over the last decade, they’ve shifted to focus on specialty coffee and have been able to sell their coffees for substantially higher prices to our partners at Agricafe, which processes specialty lots at their Buena Vista washing station which is located in Caranavi.
The coffee nursery at Finca San Bartolomé
Agricafe is a Bolivian family business owned by Pedro Rodriguez and his daughter Daniela and son Pedro Pablo. The trio’s mission is to build the production of, and market for, Bolivian specialty coffee. To do this, they have invested efforts and funding across the entire specialty coffee production chain, including buying coffee from hundreds of local farmers, establishing state-of-the-art wet and dry mills, launching producer training programs, and planting new coffee farms across the regions of Caranavi and Samaipata.
Over the last decade, Agricafe has been working to try and save the Bolivian coffee industry. Despite its international recognition and highly sought after coffees, production of coffee across Bolivia has decreased dramatically and has been at risk of completely disappearing. A combination of ageing coffee plantations, traditional and very unsophisticated farming techniques and diseases such as leaf rust have resulted in significantly reduced yields, and this, combined with the proliferation of the competing coca industry (used for cocaine), has seen coffee production more than halve.
To try to save coffee production in Bolivia and build a more sustainable future for it, the Rodriguez family started a project called Sol de la Mañana (which translates to ‘morning sun’).
Besides coffee, Julio and Lupe grow oranges, tangerines and lemons on San Bartolomé.
Sol De La Mañana
The first of its kind in the country, the Sol de la Mañana program is aimed at sharing knowledge and technical assistance with local producers to help them renovate their farms and improve their productivity. By doing so Agricafe hopes that coffee production can be a sustainable and financially stable crop for the smallholder farmers like Julio and Lupe, for many years to come.
Julio and Lupe joined the Sol de la Manaña program in 2016. As members of the program, they have followed a very structured series of courses, focused on improving their quality and yield. The curriculum focuses on one aspect of farming at a time and covers things such as how to build a nursery, how and when to use fertiliser, how to prune, has how to selectively pick coffee.
The results of this program have been profound, with improved quality and quantities for all participating producers, including Julio and Lupe. “Sol de la Mañana has opened my eyes. I genuinely enjoy making an effort and learning because it’s been an opportunity to change my life.” Julio explained.
Since joining the Sol de la Mañana program, Julio and Lupe have drastically renovated their plantation, and now have 3 hectares of very healthy trees, that is neatly organised in well-spaced and neat rows.
At the base of the farm they also have a vibrant nursery, and three years on from joining the program, the family are starting to gain exceptional yields from this investment of the farm of more than 30 bags per hectare (prior to 2016, the farm yielded less than 6 bags/hectare).
The view from Finca San Bartolomé
Perhaps most critically – the family’s involvement in Sol de la Mañana has made Julio fall in love with coffee. Previously, coffee was simply a cash crop for him, but not a passion. He split his time between a small shop in town selling soft drinks and the farm.
“Now all I want to do is be here”. Julio explained. “I have found my passion”.
These days Julio spends most of his days on the farm and gets help from his son Dario, who is still in school, in the afternoons. Lupe manages their soft drink shop each day, and Julio takes over in the evening. Their days are long, and very busy, but as their coffee farm grows, the family hopes to be able to focus all of their time on the farm.
“Now that I have more financial security, I want to help the community of workers who help me pick the coffee. I want to help them improve their lives and pay them more.” He explained. Julio has also built a small house for their family on the farm and hopes to one day move from Caranavi to live there. “I want to call San Bartolomé my home”
Already the farm feels like home. Lupe has lined the coffee plantation with beautiful flowers, and the family have also planted oranges, lemons and tangerines on the farm, that they sell at the local market.