Today, we visited ICAFE which is the institute in Costa Rica that focuses on the research and development of the coffee industry. It is not funded by the government, so it obtains its funds through a 1.5% tax on every coffee shipment that is exported. All of this money is devoted to helping farmers better their businesses. ICAFE is meant to benefit all of the coffee farmers throughout Costa Rica, but it especially helps the smaller farms who cannot afford to do their own research. They test the effects of genetically modifying coffee plants in order to produce a larger yield and how to combat certain diseases that harm coffee plants.
The research and development conducted by ICAFE is geared mostly towards helping farmers combat different diseases and fungi that ruin their crops. Farms send small samples of leaves, soil, or other parts of the plant that could be infected to ICAFE; the lab then tests the soil based on which of the eight different coffee regions it was grown in. ICAFE has an office in each region in order to better understand the results of the tests. Once the lab develops some type of alternative biological treatment it sends it to the farm affected for free. This could be something such as a fungus that reverses the effects of a different harmful fungus on the same plant. They try to minimize the amount of chemicals being used on the plants, so they use more natural alternatives rather than pesticides. They also send very specific instructions on how and when to use the treatments based on weather patterns.
Along with sharing their research, ICAFE tests the quality of the water that every farm is putting into the river as waste in order to ensure that it meets the standards of the health and safety department within the government. If the PH level does not meet this standard, the farm that it came from will have to explain to the government why this happened and how they are going to fix it for the future. ICAFE also tries to encourage farms to find ways to recycle this water back into their own soil or other aspects of their processes in order to avoid any issues with putting waste into the rivers.
This information is very useful for the smaller farms which account for around 92% of the coffee growers in Costa Rica, but the larger plantations do not always benefit from ICAFE’s efforts. These farms are usually able to conduct their own research and develop their own ways to combat these diseases, so they are essentially paying the 1.5% tax on their exports for no reason. They also do not want to share their information or special techniques with ICAFE because this would eliminate their competitive advantage. Overall, ICAFE is an essential part of the coffee industry, but it is not always beneficial for the larger contenders within the market. The sharing of information is very important to the smaller coffee plantations, but when it comes down to it, they all have the same information due to the efforts of ICAFE. Unless they can do research on their own, they have no way of gaining an advantage over their competitors.