Bolivia Sol de la Mañana Limited Release
- April 2019
- Written by : Michael Sheridan
Director of Sourcing & Shared Value / Green Coffee Buyer
Our longest-standing Direct Trade partner in Bolivia is the Rodríguez family. We have been working for a full decade with the Fincas los Rodríguez team, which is led by Pedro Rodríguez, his daughter Daniela and his son Pedro Pablo. Today the family owns and operates a dozen farms, two sparkling wet mills, and one spotless dry mill near the country’s capital, La Paz. The word that comes to mind most readily when I think of the family’s sprawling coffee operations is crisp.
It seems the best way to describe the design and execution of everything the Rodríguez family does: postcard-perfect farms, pristine milling, a spotless cupping lab, timely delivery, and sleek communications. Fincas los Rodríguez impresses from the design stage all the way through to execution, with few details left to chance. Just about everything seems to be the subject of meticulous attention and care, and the Sol de la Mañana project is no exception.
We have been so impressed by the work, that when we convened our Direct Trade partners from more than one dozen countries around the world last year in Bolivia for our annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, we made sure to schedule a visit to farms and families participating in the project. So we were delighted, but hardly surprised, to learn that the Specialty Coffee Association gave its prestigious sustainability award this year to the Rodríguez family for the Sol de la Mañana initiative.
The smallholder opportunity gap
Most of the world’s coffee growers are smallholder farmers who work just a few hectares of land and produce only a few sacks of coffee a year. Their total annual production is generally far too low for them to engage directly with roasters or other buyers, who seek larger volumes to achieve efficiencies of scale.
Different kinds of structures have emerged all over the world to aggregate supply to meet the rising demand for specialty coffee, linking small-scale growers to markets. In Latin America, cooperatives and farmer-run organizations often serve that function, whereas in Africa that work tends to be done by farmer cooperative societies and coffee washing stations. In some regions, these actors create ample opportunities for smallholders. But in others, the coverage of these dominant models of intermediation is still limited, creating vast landscapes of commercial opportunity for other classes of intermediary.
Old school v new school
For many years, supply chain intermediaries with access to finance, markets, and transportation services leveraged their privileged position to take advantage of vulnerable small-scale growers, gouging them on price, withholding information, or both. While this still happens in some old-fashioned supply chains, these practices are gradually disappearing, as growers have improved access to information and intermediaries face more competition in the middle of the supply chain from more progressive traders. While it used to be common for intermediaries to keep growers in the dark in order to make money off other supply chain actors, today it is common for them to adopt more transparent and collaborative approaches in an effort to make money together with their supply chain partners. These more progressive actors include a growing number of Intelligentsia Direct Trade partners, who today are managing outgrower programs in most of the countries where we source coffee.
These programs give us access to coffees that have been developed, processed or vetted by a trusted partner and give smallholder growers access to markets they would likely never have reached on their own. But none of these, perhaps, has been as effective or as impactful as the Rodríguez family’s Sol de la Mañana project in Bolivia.
Sol de la Mañana
Coffee production in the Caranavi region, the historic center of Bolivia’s coffee production and the Rodríguez family coffee operations, is primarily a smallholder affair. Thousands of indigenous family farmers there grow coffee on tiny farms with limited access to information, training, credit or markets. Enter the Rodríguez family and Sol de la Mañana.
Pedro’s son, Pedro Pablo, is a graduate of one of the most prestigious agricultural universities in the Americas and a veteran of the family’s quality-focused milling operations. He is exceptionally well-placed to coordinate the family’s outreach to a growing number of smallholder farmers in Caranavi and to deliver precisely the agricultural training and market intelligence they need to compete in specialty markets. The farms we visited last year during our ECW event were thriving, their vigorous plants distinguishing them clearly from neighboring farms. Perhaps more importantly, the family processes the production of Sol de la Mañana families for roasters like us, to which they would not otherwise have ready access.
So when you enjoy this coffee and its flavors of root beer, dried cherry, and molasses, you aren’t just drinking another great coffee from Finca los Rodríguez. You are participating in a promising new business model, one that the largest coffee association in the world finds worthy of its highest honor in the field of sustainability.