Today we got to tour a cooperative company called Coopedota. This was a little different from our other coffee company tours because a cooperative is run differently. It is one organization with 900 members who run smaller family farms. It started in 1960 with only 96 producers so it has really grown and become successful. It is run differently because the associates general assembly appoints a board of managers and the board of managers chooses a general manager to be in charge. All of the farms bring the coffee cherries to the same place for it to be milled and processed. Coopedota exports 90% of the green bean so only a little bit is roasted packaged and sold. They export to Europe, North America, and Asia. They have developed a name for themselves via word of mouth and sell to places like Peet’s and Starbucks. The farmers are paid a certain percentage when the coffee is delivered (starting in April), and then they are paid a certain percentage each month until it is finished in November when the price is determined by the market. The cooperative has to very strict about rules to guarantee good quality from every farm. Obviously it is pretty successful and works well for these farmers so it was interesting to learn a different way to approach the coffee business.
There are many advantages of being a cooperative company. One advantage is that the cooperative benefits the environment. Coopedota is the first carbon neutral coffee company (for 6 years in a row now). They earned this due to their work to have low carbon dioxide emissions. They also do their best to reduce their use of water and energy. They are able to do this because they have control over enough farms to make a difference. Another advantage of the cooperative is how it helps the community. Coopedota does outreach in the local high schools to teach them about coffee and maybe help them into a coffee career. They also sponsor nursing homes in the town. It is also advantageous for the farmers because they are so small it would be too expensive and difficult to do it all on their own (especially to buy and run a mill), but by working together they can make a better profit.
However there are also disadvantages to working for a cooperative. First the farmer has to pay a fee to invest in the cooperative in order to join. For small start up farmers this might be difficult to afford. Then they are at a slight disadvantage because they are only allowed to sell to the cooperative, even if they thought they could get a better price somewhere else. Another complaint is from farmers who own bigger farms and produce more because they think they earn more and deserve better, but everyone is treated equally. Overall though I think this would be really beneficial for small farms to help them earn money.
The community of Santa Maria de Dota would be very different without a cooperative. We asked the tour guide what we thought would happen without it and how she felt. She said that if it was a private company instead of the cooperative it would be a monopoly so they would likely take advantage of the farmers and pay them less. She said they are kind of like a family now after so many years working together, and the community would suffer without the programs it supports. A private company would likely care less about the locals and possibly the environment, too. If the cooperative didn’t exist and the farmers were on their own, everyone would likely struggle more and the town would be poorer. I also believe there would be a lot more competition between the farmers unlike the cooperation now. I believe the town benefits from the cooperative and would suffer in these various ways if it disappeared.