Costa Rica consists of 8 coffee regions, and we finally visited the famous Tarrazu region. On other coffee tours, we learned that this region is known for it’s premium coffee that has a high acidity. Cafe Britt and Cafe Rey both had a special Tarrazu coffee which only contained beans from this region, and Cafe Rey’s sells this brand at a price 4 to 5 times more than their traditional coffee. Besides having an exquisite strand of coffee, this region is unique from other areas we visited because a majority of the farms are a part of a cooperative called Coppedotta. 900 members are a part of this cooperative, and they each represent a family with a small farm of 1 to 3 hectares on average. Each farmer takes their crop to the Coppedotta facility where the rest is taken care for from sorting to roasting to selling. Working through a cooperative allows the farmers to focus solely on their farm and their coffee beans while also providing economic advantages. They vote for a board of directors who then votes on a General Manager. This General Manager runs the cooperative in terms of setting and upholding regulations.
Our tour guide told us today that she doesn’t have one boss, but she has 900. In other words, the cooperative works for the people not the people for the cooperative. One of the biggest advantages is the guarantee that a farmers beans will be sold as long as they’re maintaining a certain quality. 90% of the coffee is exported to countries around the world which allows these small farmers to compete on a global market. They’re paid a certain percentage of the market throughout the year in order to give them a salary outside of the harvest season. With this system, the farmers only need to know how to farm the land, and with a membership fee, the rest is taken care of. Also, our tour guide mentioned that they give the farmers an incentive to improve their quality. I’m not sure, but I would assume these are economic incentives. Not only are there incentives, there is a flow of information between the cooperative and small farmers for coffee farming practices to help the quality of coffee. Finally, by working together these farms are more competitive in a global market then they would be if they had to compete with each other.
Although the cooperative sounds idealistic, this system has it’s disadvantages, and there are Tarrazu region farmers who choose not to participate. One of the disadvantages is that this hinders competition within the region. Without the cooperative, these farmers would compete against each other, and this competition is good because it promotes quality improvements and product differentiation in order to beat out their competitors. This would be good for farms who have the resources to compete and also good for the customer who would be receiving more, higher quality products. Also in this system, all big and small farms are treated the same which some large farms don’t like. Each farm is paid by their volume of quantity, but they each are given the same resources and incentives. No one farm can get ahead in this system, and there would have to be huge economic incentives to improve quality or promote eco-friendly practices.
I think this cooperative system is good for this community. There is no way that all of these small farmers would have knowledge of the business side of coffee production, so it gives these farmers a chance to make a living. If each competed against each other, a majority of the small farms would be wiped out or bought out by a larger farm, and a monopoly could possibly form. By working together, they can brand themselves as the Tarrazu region and uphold everyone to the same quality. I also believe this cooperative or “socialist” way of thinking reflects Tico values of togetherness and harmony.