Better Together

In the early 1960s, a coffee cooperative, Coopedota, was created in order to benefit local coffee farmers within the fertile Tarrazu region. The cooperative presented its mission as a commitment to furthering the economic, environmental, and social development of the beautiful surrounding landscape. Coopedota currently consists of 900 active partners. These partners appoint a board of directors, who are permanently in charge of administration; in turn, the board then elects a general manager for the cooperative. The active partners must pay membership fees, which are seen as an investment, and returned to the farmers if they ever decide to leave the cooperative. The partners are also expected to follow regulations in accordance to Coopedota, in order to receive the benefits. As members, farmers are paid based on the volume of coffee presented. They are given “salaries”, or small monthly installments of their earnings to last them through the wet season. The presence of Coopedota benefits the community in the three sectors exemplified through their mission statement.

From an economic perspective, the cooperative has positioned the small farmers better in the market. As 900 separate small coffee farms in the region, each firm would face extremely high competition, and with little to no product differentiation, chances of success would be slim. By joining together to create a mass of high quality coffee producers, the farms have a better chance of survival. Venturing out on its own would be an expensive and risky endeavor for the farmers, as they often lack business experience, and the support that would have been provided by Coopedota.

Environmentally, Coopedota is implementing programs to reduce their carbon footprint. One project entailed replacing 95% of the firewood involved in the drying process with coffee husks. The cooperative also reduced their electricity usage by over 35%. While the cooperative is not organic, as this is not realistic for an organization with 900 active partners, they promote organic tactics and use organic fertilizer. The organization has gotten white and blue flag recognition by the Ministry of Health. These initiatives have helped Coopedota create the first entirely carbon neutral coffee in 2011.

The actions of Coopedota have been beneficial to not only the active members, but socially to the community members as well. As for the members, the cooperative provides incentives to keep the morale and quality of farms high. Their Microlotes project focuses on the creation of unique and high quality coffee; the highest rated coffee producer then receives a prize as his/her coffee is able to go to the market at a higher price. To give back to the community, Coopedota sponsors the Santa Maria nursing home, among other community amenities.

The cooperative’s presence upholds coffee as the main industry in the town of Santa Maria de Dota, and brings in tourists. In other areas, such as Monteverde, the collapse of the local coffee cooperative has created a magnitude of problems for local producers, many of whom were forced to shut down and moving into other areas such as tourism. This is seen as a large problem in Monteverde, where locals don’t want to see another restaurant or half empty hotel built. Without Coopedota, Santa Maria de Dota could face similar struggles.

The perceived benefits of Coopedota depend heavily on perspective. While I have listed the many positive consequences that have come from the cooperative, the Coopedota representative explained that while it is unusual, some producers leave the cooperative after being unsatisfied by its services. All 900 farms in Coopedota are treated as equals; this goes for farms of all sizes. While equality may seem fair, it is important to look at the issue from both sides. After all, the USA faced this same problem when deciding on how states should be represented, and that is why we have the bicameral legislature. Bigger players feel that they deserve greater influence. As a result, some farms of larger sizes have left the cooperative. Since Coopedota is made up of so many players, it’s probable that the players are treated less like individuals, and more as a mass. Each farm may not get the attention it desires or have the creativity to alter their crops.

Ultimately, the presence of Coopedota seems to positively influence Santa Maria de Dota, and keep the local coffee industry intact. No organization can be entirely perfect or efficient, yet pooling hundreds of small players together seems to be of grater advantage to everyone than roughing it on one’s own. Teamwork is the way to go in Dota.

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