"All this effort goes hand in hand with achieving a good price for coffee, and for that reason we have been paying close attention to all the elements that can help add value to the product. The Coffee NAMA project is one more element that can come to strengthen that vision."
A long-term perspective
The Cooperativa de Caficultores de Heredia Libertad R.L. was founded by a group of small producers in 1961, a time when the coffee business in Costa Rica was controlled by a few large coffee growers. According to the words of its then Vice President, Mr. Luis Omar Chavarría, recorded in the minutes of one of the first sessions of the recently formed Board of Directors of the Cooperative, "this company was born as a protest of the small coffee growers, who in turn saw in the union of their efforts, the opportunity to be free to manage their small businesses". When, as a result of this reflection, Don Luis proposed the name Coopelibertad for the Cooperative, the then 267 members unanimously approved it.
Today, almost sixty years later, Coopelibertad continues to bring together the majority of coffee producers in the Province of Heredia. The facilities of its coffee mill and its farms located a few hundred meters from a highly urbanized residential and commercial zone on the border between the Provinces of Heredia and San José, recall an era in which coffee plantations were a recurring element of the landscape of the Central Valley.
Align practices with the vision
The current Manager of the Cooperative, Guillermo Trejos, says that since 2016 Coopelibertad has been implementing a new positioning strategy at the international level, whose main focus is to align the production of high-quality coffee with environmental sustainability values.
"In Costa Rica we know that we have very high-quality coffee, but we also have high production costs and low productivity levels, which means that we have to make all kinds of efforts to seek a better price for coffee. We have seen that part of how to achieve a better price is by adding value to the product, with elements of sustainability and quality."
Coopelibertad thus began a progressive process of transforming its production and processing practices. It began to implement a quality policy in collection and a farm certification process, which led producers to apply new agronomic practices, such as better soil management, the integration of shade and conservation areas, and the reduction of herbicide and chemical fertilizer use, among others. At the coffee mill level, heavy investments were made in machinery to reduce energy and water consumption, thus improving process efficiency.
"All this effort goes hand in hand with achieving a good price for coffee, and for that reason we have been paying close attention to all the elements that can help add value to the product. The more elements we add, the more possibilities we have to achieve a good price. The Coffee NAMA project is one more element that can come to strengthen that vision."
Coopelibertad visualized its participation in the Coffee NAMA as an opportunity not only to add value to its product in terms of sustainability, but also to make visible all the efforts made in recent years in this regard and to position the cooperative in international markets as an organization committed to environmental sustainability.
Based on the results of the GHG emissions inventories prepared with the support of the NSP project, the Cooperative has implemented a series of changes in the crop management plan and has participated in the on-farm tree program with Fundación Banco Ambiental (FUNBAM). The Coffee NAMA incentive system allowed Coopelibertad to recover part of the investments made to improve the energy efficiency of the processing processes.
The results of these actions are evident and tangible: there has been a decrease in water consumption, a more efficient management of the electrical load, a decrease in mechanical damage to the coffee, an increase in the percentage of export quality product, as well as a decrease in GHG emissions.
Trejos states that Coopelibertad wants to continue expanding its efforts to consolidate its vision of an organization focused on quality and sustainability. He believes that the greatest challenge lies in the marketing link:
-"Working for the producer means improving their quality of life, and we will only be able to achieve this if we get our customers to understand our business philosophy and help us work with long-term commitments and fair and profitable prices for all parties in the chain."