Improving rural livelihoods with high-quality coffee in Colombia and Bolivia

Coffee ceremony
Coffee ceremony © Shutterstock

Coffee is one of the most important commodities traded globally. It provides a living to millions of farming families in the global South. But most coffee farmers receive only a small share of the final profits made from each cup of coffee. Greater profits are captured in the consuming countries, through roasting, marketing, and more.

Smallholder livelihoods affected by low coffee prices

Due to low farm-gate prices and high labour intensity, coffee production is no longer viable for many small farmers in Colombia and Bolivia. This trend puts rural livelihoods at risk and endangers the future of coffee production.
Younger people, in particular, increasingly engage in off-farm activities and migrate to cities, for example to El Alto in Bolivia, where 36% of the population lives in poverty.

Developing local value chains to improve rural livelihoods

Generally, coffee research has primarily focused on export markets. Our approach in this CDE research project is different: together with our partners, we are investigating the potential of local and national coffee markets. In Bolivia and Colombia, specialty coffee – i.e. single origin, and rated at least 80 out of 100 points according to the Specialty Coffee Association) – is typically exported and only the lower-quality coffee is marketed for domestic consumption.
But local demand for specialty coffee is growing.  And products made from dried coffee pulp – known as cascara, sultana, or coffee cherry – are increasingly sought after.
Other promising strategies for smallholder farmers include exporting directly to roasters or coffee shops abroad, or marketing roasted coffee locally. If they gain more control of larger parts of the value chain, they will likely increase their bargaining power and incomes.

Our three overarching research focuses are:
1. Analyses of specialty coffee value chains and livelihood outcomes
2. Investigation of the quality potential for coffee/coffee-cherry beverages and associated knowledge
3. Identification of institutional and policy needs for new market opportunities

Two coffee-producing countries with differing value chains

Our project team combines two coffee-producing countries with distinct markets: Colombia, where high-quality coffee is already established, but coffee cherry use is virtually unknown; and Bolivia, where high-quality coffee remains in its infancy, but traditional use of cascara tea adds value to coffee production.

Research partners

The interdisciplinary research project “Improving rural livelihoods with high-quality coffee in Colombia and Bolivia” combines the expertise of the research partners, two institutes with a strong bacground in coffee-quality research

CDE complements their expertise by linking coffee-quality research with analysis of livelihoods and governance.

Finally, the producers, traders, roasters, civil-society actors, and governments involved in the project are actively working together to achieve more sustainable, equitable value chains. Project researchers are working together with Slow Food Bolivia, Fundación Decintec Colombia, and local coffee businesses such as small-scale roasters, cafeterias, and coffee enterprises.

The best coffee beans are picked out
© Johanna Jacobi
Further information Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS)
Funding Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS)
Duration 1 October 2017 to 30 September 2019 (2 years)
Contact Dr. Johanna Jacobi