Cooperation is Key!

Hola, amigos! We are now staying in Santa Maria de Dota. Despite rumors of the hotel being rustic, it is fairly nice! We left Heredia this morning to visit our last coffee plantation of the trip, sadly. Named Coopedota, it is very interesting because it is the first business cooperation that we have seen. Now, this cooperation is a business comprised of 900 families who all own farms and work together to create the best coffee united under one name. Similar to a corporation in nature, these families act as stockholders in the sense that they select a Board of Directors who then chooses a General Manager to make large decisions for the company. As our tour guide presented the information, she was very transparent and real with us, and this truly allowed us to understand all advantages and disadvantages of a company structured in this way.

First, I will discuss the benefits. To begin, what I love the most about a cooperation is the fact that there are so many perspectives that will be heard during meetings and decision making times. When these perspectives are combined under one roof, it really contributes to the overall intelligence of the firm and allows them to look at a problem from a multitude of angles; this way, they can avoid unintended consequences. Our tour guide explained that these families live in various surrounding areas, so they will all be able to teach the business at least one idea, since their experiences are environmentally different from everyone else’s. In addition to this, farms will be able to learn from each other’s mistakes. These farms communicate frequently, and they have general meetings monthly; therefore, one farm that messes up a batch of coffee due to the improper use of a chemical can explain what went wrong to all the other farms so that they may avoid the same problem. This also works the other way i.e. finding solutions to problems.

Secondly, these families can combine their intellectual property as well. With regular plantations, they must conduct research and development by themselves, and this can take plenty of time. A cooperation allows these businesses to create a division of studies and splits research across the many plantations. Not only does this allow plantations to specialize solely where they are the strongest (We imagine that there will be comparative advantages), but it also cuts the costs drastically, as research and development is a huge cost these days; this is especially true for an industry like coffee, where experiments take many years and where trial and error allows for only one chance! This brings me to my third point: Pooled resources.

Coopedota is comprised of 900 families, and these families put forth their own capital. Clearly, this will accumulate to a lot of total capital, meaning that if there is a huge project that the business wants to complete, money will probably not be the biggest issue. This allows them to constantly generate reforms and improve their facilities.

Finally, the relationships between the owners of the company is mutual and amiable, at least for Coopedota. Originally, I figured that since there were so many farms, they would always fight with each other and be selfish to get their own way; I could not have been more wrong. After the tour ended, I spoke with the tour guide separately and asked her how often relationships between the farmers become rocky. She explained that it is very rare, and when I asked her why, she answered, “Most of these farms are family with each other. Even if they argue, at times, I still see the same ones in the streets, ‘pura vida,’ you see?” I am not used to families that live so close together because in America, work separates many people. Here, however, if you grow up on a farm, you probably stay there your whole life working, and your cousin and his family live 5 kilos away because they work on the farm that your grandfather used to own. So, because of this, conflict is less common in this particular cooperation.

In transition, there are many disadvantages as well, most of which are simply opposite outcomes of the advantages. To begin, if we are not assuming that the company is like Coopedota, then there will be much conflict because it is hard to keep all farms on the same page. This can be summed up in the idea of stakeholder theory, which explains that differing views of stakeholders can cause disruption within a company when they push to have their needs met. For instance, if one farm wants to be organic, but their neighbor does not, neither farm can be organic because the regulator will not allow organic farms to be so close to farms that use pesticides, etc. I imagine there is more compromise and sacrifice than with any other type of firm, which leads to unsatisfied stakeholders who might leave the cooperation.

That being said, Coopedota is Egalitarian meaning that everyone has an equal voice. Our presenter explained that even if a farm with 3x as much land thinks they deserve more say in decisions, they are not granted this power. This has caused a few of the bigger producers to leave their cooperation, which is bad for obvious reasons. Also, with intellectual property and research, if one piece of information is inaccurate, then it is inaccurate for everybody. Lastly, resources must be spread evenly. This means that there will be delays before decisions are made because everyone’s opinions will need to be considered.

I, personally, believe that the advantages strongly outweigh the disadvantages and am in favor of this type of company. After all, Santa Maria de Dota would be different without this cooperation in a few ways. Firstly, the community might not be so close. This cooperation brings so many people together, and I imagine the relationships are lasting. In addition, individual farms would need to compete for resources, suppliers, retailers, etc. They help to provide guidance to farmers, so perhaps coffee just would not be so good. All I know for sure is that the cooperation is essential to the community as well as to the lives of many farmers!

¡Pura Vida!


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