"To be able to place the high-quality Costa Rican coffee that usually is exported and crosses borders, to have it stay here and that we Costa Ricans can consume and have access to high-quality coffee… That is my dream".
Staying to grow
Daniela Gutiérrez studied industrial production engineering, with the idea of later working in a private company. However, after doing her graduation project in La Montaña Tarrazú, her family's micro-mill located in the coffee growing region of Los Santos, she decided to stay and take on the challenge of starting to take charge of both the processing and marketing of coffee, while her father takes charge of the farm.
"I realized that I loved what I was doing and that there were a lot of problems to solve, so I said to myself: it's better that I stay here. I like it, I enjoy it, it's something that is going to be a legacy for my nieces and nephews or for my family. So, although it is very challenging, it is very rewarding. I saw the opportunity to stay in a place that I cared for, that I loved, but that also allowed me to grow professionally," she says.
The decision had its challenges. Being a young woman in a world traditionally controlled by men means having to build trust and credibility that are not just easily given. Gutierrez recalls the many times a buyer asked to speak to her father in order to close a deal, even though she was the company's sales manager.
The fresh air of youth
A few years ago, Gutiérrez's story would have been very peculiar in her homeland. Although most young people from the area who go to university still end up settling in the city, where they find more job opportunities, Gutiérrez believes that more and more are returning to work in the place where they were born, often in their own families' businesses.
These new generations bring with them fresh ideas and a desire to innovate, as well as a more active environmental awareness, elements that Gutiérrez believes are very helpful in transforming and restoring the profitability of family businesses that are sometimes stagnant.
In her case, the concern to develop the coffee activity in a more profitable but also more sustainable way, led La Montaña Tarrazú in 2018 to start measuring its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the technical accompaniment of the Coffee NAMA Support Project (NSP Café).
"Before, we had no idea how it was done. The issue of CO2e emissions and carbon neutrality were issues that were seen as very complicated, so we were a little scared, but we decided to participate in the Coffee NAMA project to be able to know how we were doing and how we could improve.”
According to Gutiérrez, the first emissions measurements gave a very positive result, indicating that both the production and processing processes were sustainable. However, the exercise also provided information on processes that could be improved, particularly electricity consumption.
The Coffee NSP incentive mechanism allowed the company to recover part of the investment made for the installation of greenhouses. The use of greenhouses makes it possible to take greater advantage of solar energy in the drying process, substantially reducing the mills’ electricity consumption and preventing unexpected and unseasonal rains, a consequence of climate change, from affecting the quality of the sun-dried coffee.
Understanding the value of what we have
Gutierrez also participated in the training for commercial managers provided by the Coffee NSP, in which she received advice to improve the commercial positioning of their product. She comments:
"We are used to selling our product in a certain way because what we do seems very normal to us, then they helped us to enhance and demonstrate that what we have and what we produce is a differentiated product.”
Participating in the coffee NAMA allowed La Montaña Tarrazú to find new clients and maintain those interested in a production that is in harmony with the environment. According to Gutiérrez, participating in these projects is a way to maintain alliances with buyers and continue producing sustainably.
Gutiérrez comments that most of the coffee produced in Costa Rica, and especially the high-quality coffee, is exported. This is because in the international market there is a greater possibility of selling high-quality coffee at a fairer price. Gutierrez's dream is to be able to reverse this trend and strengthen the positioning of their coffee brand at a national level.
-"To be able to place the high-quality Costa Rican coffee that usually is exported and crosses borders, to have it stay here and that we Costa Ricans can consume and have access to high-quality coffee… That is my dream".