Bolivia is a country located in the center of the South American continent. It is blessed with the natural environment of both the Andes and the Amazon rainforest and the Salar de Uyuni is a world-famous tourist attraction. The presence of the culture of the indigenous people is strong and you can often see women dressed in traditional costumes on the streets. The international airport in the capital, La Paz is located at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level which is said to be the airport that is located at the highest in altitude in the world.
Economically speaking, the country is poor and it is said to be the poorest country in South America and the political situation remains unstable. Although the country is blessed with mineral resources, it has a history of selling mining rights to developed countries for immediate profit, which has not led to creating wealth for the people. It has a history of losing land facing the Pacific Ocean due to a border dispute with Chile, and the trade with other countries is also closed.
It is said that the Salar de Uyuni contains an estimated 17% of the earth’s lithium reserves and the demand for lithium is increasing as an essential raw material for batteries for smartphones and electric cars. It attracts attention as a key to reviving Bolivia’s economy but it is said to be difficult to utilize it effectively with the current technology in Bolivia and the situation of the country. Bolivia’s politics are in turmoil and relations with the U.S. are strained due to the predominance of leftist parties in the country.
Bolivia can be described in one word; chaos. Things rarely go as expected but it is such a mysterious country with a charm that you can’t take your eyes off.
Coffee Production in Bolivia
Coffee was brought to Bolivia during the Spanish colonial period and production began in the 1800s. There was a history of redistribution of farmland from the ruling class to the indigenous people due to agrarian reform and smallholders run by families still account for a large percentage of producers even today. There are a few hybrids and many pure varieties such as Typica and Caturra are produced.
In 2004, a U.S. organization called USAID, which is a U.S. government organization established for promoting international development, started a project in Bolivia. As a solution to the increasing drug problem in the U.S., USAID launched a project to convert coca leaves, which is the raw material for cocaine produced in Bolivia, into specialty coffee. There has long been a culture of chewing coca leaves as a delicacy in Bolivia and people have coca tea every day. Coca leaves are easier to grow than coffee and can be quickly paid for, so there was no end to the number of producers who switched from producing coffee to coca.
USAID provided technical guidance by building new mills and worked to improve the productivity and quality of the coffee. Bolivia’s first Cup of Excellence (COE) was held in the same year and attracted much attention but the political tilt to the left in 2008 caused tensions between the two countries, and USAID was expelled. Eventually, the COE came to an end after 2009.
From what I have heard from several smallholders, there may have been a dominant aspect to it, but there is no doubt that USAID’s activities laid the foundation for specialty coffee in Bolivia. I have met some people who received training at the COE and they are regarded as wonderful producers.
The President’s Cup called Torneo Taza de Café Presidencial has been held since 2015 as the international competition to replace the COE. Since the government is also involved in the competition, it is easily influenced by the country’s situation and it seems that there are still issues to be addressed.
To summarize Bolivia’s coffee production, it is a country with potential whose appeal has been buried by politics and powerful countries. There are excellent producers and coffees and there is a need for someone to connect them with overseas markets. This is a country that we would like to develop a long-term relationship with so that we can be of any help.