The Growers’ Cooperative and Multiple Services of Naranjo (Coopronaranjo) was founded in 1968 by 98 coffee growing families. The very idea of forming a cooperative was a response to the sluggish economy of the time, and the first members sought to resolve issues in the agricultural sector so as to preserve family livelihood. Today the group has grown to more than 3,000 small coffee producer members growing an average of 106,000 quintales of coffee annually. Over the years the cooperative has diversified its scope of action, involving itself even further in the commercial area to meet members’ needs. In addition to representing farmer interests and providing services directly to farmers, the group also works to position itself in new, specialty markets and to form strategic alliances. However, the core of the group’s activities remains the wellbeing of the small to medium scale coffee farmer, her/his family and the wider community.
Since its creation, Coopronaranjo has become the centre of economic growth in the canton of Naranjo, located in Costa Rica’s lush Western Valley. Approximately 95% of its membership is small farmers, farming on fewer than 10 hectares of land; some 40% of its members are women. As Coopronaranjo members live and work in the local community themselves, environmental and social considerations are naturally of paramount importance. The commitment to quality of product, better conditions for workers and a clean environment has earned the coop various social and environmental certifications.
Las Lomas (3 Mesas) de Naranjo is a special community-lot project created to favour all Coopronaranjo producers in the region whose farms are located at between 1,300 to 1,750ev meters above sea lel. The towns benefiting are: Los Robles, Lourdes, San Juanillo, Cañuela and Barranca. In order to be included in the community blend, producers much must deliver only their highest quality coffee cherry to the main ‘receiver’ of each community, who then oversees the strict quality controls before sending the coffee on to the wet mill. The point of departure for this particular lot (3 Mesas) is the town of San Juanillo, with 68 producers contributing to the lot. The higher prices gained from selling on a speciality market, however, directly benefits approximately 272 family members, plus all those in the community who indirectly benefit from the price received by the producer.
It is difficult for small-scale producers to make a living farming coffee in Costa Rica these days. As such, keeping young people in coffee is a challenge. Most of the children of coffee farmers in Naranjo have chosen professional work or have jobs as security guards, in call centers, etc. Coopronaranjo hopes that by manifesting better livelihoods through speciality coffee they can inspire the next generation.
Another challenge, perhaps unsurprisingly, is aging root stock. Most of the trees in the region are 25+ years old. Investing in renovation and increasing productivity without losing quality is one of the coop’s current priorities. Coopronaranjo have recently launched a renovation program, encouraging members to renew their coffee plantations with varieties displaying greater productivity, tolerance to rust and with an excellent cup profile. Producers are planting lots by variety which allows them to harvest a single variety on the same day or successive days in a row, which helps in creating separate lots according to variety.
All coffee is selectively hand-picked and is then delivered to the community-based receiving station, where it is sorted to ensure only the ripest cherries make it through. Each receiving station is equipped with a list of mandatory coffee cherry requirements, and staff are diligent in assuring these are followed to the letter. At the end of the day, the coffee is transported between 8 to 70 km (depending on the community) to the central wet mill, where it is pulped by a Penagos pulper and further sorted according to weight and size of bean. In the case of washed coffees, such as this one, the coffee is then run through a demucilager and delivered directly to patios or guardiolas (if the weather is damp) to dry.
The cooperative separates microlots of exceptional quality – usually according to farm and/or variety and process. Lots such as this one are produced by various small farmers who live near one another. Community lots such as this provide the backbone of most farmers’ production, and gaining a higher price for your contribution to a lot such as this one can make a huge difference to your bottom line! Instigating programs such as Las Lomas de Naranjo and increasing sales on the specialty market, Coopronaranjo feels it is making a great effort towards encouraging producers in the activities that will increase the potential of the program in the future and encourage young people to come back to farming.
Costa Rican legislation requires the cooperative to carry out an annual program of conservation and occupational health, to which the cooperative entirely complies. Furthermore, social welfare programs in health, education and economic well-being are part of the daily activities of the group and are services provided to all members. In addition to year round work given at the mill for 12 workers and their families, they also employ workers periodically throughout the season. In total, the group feels satisfied in giving sustainability to the families with whom they work.