The similarities and differences of Bolivian and Colombian coffee farming

Coffee provides a living for millions of smallholder farmers, but price fluctuations, climate change, and plant diseases pose obstacles.

Dr. Chahan Yeretzian, Professor at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW); Dr. Johanna Jacobi, Assistant Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich; Sebastian Opitz and Sabine de Castelberg, Principal Investigators from ZHAW; and scientists from Bolivia and Colombia conducted two years of research to determine how the use of high-quality coffee could be used to improve the situation.

They examined the most important quality characteristics of green coffee and coffee cherry products, and conducted statistical analyses.

The report analyzed the value chains of both countries to support farmers’ livelihoods and made recommendations for national and international strategies and policy reorientations to enhance sustainable and fair markets.

“The objective was to observe these two countries, which are quite different in their coffee development and business maturity, and determine which aspects of their production processes could be improved or beneficial to the other,” explains Yeretzian.

According to Opitz, there are few studies that establish a connection between cup quality, farmers’ livelihoods, and policies to promote both. First, an inter-disciplinary team is required, followed by a non-monetary theoretical foundation, such as the sustainable livelihoods framework.

“Too little research has been conducted on the general situation of coffee farmers. Two things, I believe, distinguish our research from others: First, the emphasis on by-products other than coffee, such as fruits, nuts, and timber, which is also crucial if we wish to improve agroforestry, says Jacobi. “Secondly, the perception of what quality actually entails. Is it a high-quality cup of coffee if it is produced under slave-like conditions, despite the fact that the cup is exquisite? Or if it requires the destruction of a mature forest?”

According to Opitz, there are two types of coffee quality: that measured by Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) scoring points and the overall quality of the coffee industry.

“We observed that the consistency of production in Bolivia was significantly lower than in Colombia. “Colombia’s coffee farmers have a greater understanding of how to produce high-quality Colombian mild coffee on a large scale, whereas Bolivia’s coffee samples had a much wider variation, which is especially critical when considering defects and high moisture content,” he says.

According to the World Bank, production in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America, has decreased in recent years despite growing international recognition and high demand for its coffees.

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