Coocafe, Coffee Co-operative, Costa Rica


"Without the alternative trade market, the reality for our co-operatives would have been different. The learning process and price premium have made the difference between a group of producers with a chance of obtaining a dignified level of life and those producers without."
Carlos Vargas Leiton, Coocafe Manager

"Since we began in 1988, Coocafe has sold coffee to the Fairtrade market. Thanks to this model of trade our organization has gotten stronger and now looks to the future with optimism despite the fact the coffee prices on the conventional market continue to suffer from a prolonged period of crisis."
Coocafe web site,

“Since 1988, Coocafe has greatly enhanced its efforts to access and directly compete in the international coffee market. For the past 15 years, Coocafe has participated in the Fairtrade market as well as in the conventional market, favouring Coocafe’s members with higher, less volatile prices.

The stable price provided by the Fairtrade market has allowed our organization to develop social and environmental initiatives, as well as projects to help our farmers diversify their sources of income. At the same time, the higher price has allowed our cooperatives to re-invest in their communities with projects like credit for housing, land reform, and the repair and construction of municipal infrastructure.”

Coocafe web site,

Coocafe general information

  • Cooperativa de Café, known as Coocafe, was founded in 1988. It is a secondary level service co-operative originally comprising five primary level co-operatives which has now increased to nine: Coopemontes del Oro, Coopetila, Coope El Dos, Coopepilangosta, Coopecerro Azul, Coopesarapiqui, CoopeSanta Elena, Coopabuena, and Coopellanobonito
  • Seven are located in the northern states of Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Heredia, and one each in the southern states of San José and southern Puntarenas. The farms are located at altitudes of between 800 and 1,200 metres
  • Coocafe represents 3,500 farmers, including 256 women, and indirectly benefits 15,000 people
  • Coocafe members produce around 4,140 tonnes of arabica coffee beans each year, 80% of production is exported. Coocafe carries out processing and exportation for all its members’ production
  • Coopemontes del Oro, Coopepilangosta and Coope El Dos are certified organic, producing around 45 tonnes of organic coffee
  • The majority of the co-operatives produce shade grown coffee, and are in transition to organic production. All use organic fertilisers
  • The average farm is 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) in size with an annual yield of around 1,600 kg
  • Since 1995 Coocafe has diversified into the export of yucca and plantain chips
  • One co-operative is being supported in macadamia nut production
  • COOCAFE and its cooperatives have established two foundations: Hijos del Campo Foundation (countryside kids) provides school and university scholarships for promising students; and Foundation Café Forestal which supports socio-economic and environmental development projects. 


Coocafe Goals

Coocafe’s objective is to integrate and increase its members’ products and resources in secure markets and at fair prices to generate a sustained programme of economic development. It aims to reach a level of financial self-sufficiency within each member co-operative and establish a modern, capable and efficient administration system to optimize existing resources and generate benefits to all members.

Coocafe and Fairtrade

  • Coocafe began working with European fair trade organisations in 1989 and was registered with Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) in 1995. The Fairtrade Foundation is the UK member of FLO
  • Because of its extensive experience of Fairtrade and successful development, Coocafe actively contributes to FLO policy discussions and assists other co-operatives in developing their export capacity
  • Coocafe receives the Fairtrade minimum price of 126 cents/lb for their arabica coffee; this includes 5 cents/lb premium that is used for business and social development programmes
  • In 2002, Coocafe received 50-96 cents/lb from sales to the conventional market, depending on the type and quality of bean
  • The price of arabica coffee on the New York Exchange (international export price) has been in general decline since 1998 and fell to an all-time low in real terms of 45 cents/lb in October 2001. Prices gradually recovered and currently stand at around 108 cents/lb (October 2006)
  • The difference between the New York price and Fairtrade minimum price (sobrepricio) is invested in the Development and Social Capital Funds (40%) which among other things provides credit to members which they would otherwise find expensive and difficult to obtain. The remaining 60% goes to the Producers' Fund for direct payments to producers via the primary level co-operatives
  • On average 40%-50% of production is sold to the Fairtrade market (1,485 tonnes in 2001/02). A small amount is sold for national consumption but the bulk of the remainder is sold to the conventional export market, frequently at higher than normal prices because of Coocafe's increased knowledge of the market and awareness of trading procedures
  • In addition to the increased income and positive affect on the farmers' quality of life, a major impact of the Coocafe/Fairtrade partnership has been to strengthen the operation of the farmers' organisations at local, national and international levels
  • Coocafe purchased a coffee roasting plant in 1990 and now processes and exports three roast & ground coffees to Fairtrade, organic and Specialty coffee markets in the USA and Japan, the profits of which are earmarked for environment and education programmes
  • Coocafe established its own export department in 1997 with technical and marketing assistance from FLO
  • In April 2002 Coocafe purchased its own warehouse and processing plant. The group of co-ops is now integrated from seed purchase to the export of bagged coffee.
  • Coffee produced by Coocafe is imported to the UK by Van Weely, Twin Trading, Equal Exchange and Wakefield and is marketed by 11 companies including Cafédirect and Matthew Algie.

Fairtrade Premium

The Fairtrade Premium has provided or contributed to the funding of a variety of projects. They include:

Envrionmental and horticultural projects:

  • Renovation and conversion of processing plants to 'clean technology'
  • New water treatment system in processing plants has reduced water use from 2,000-3,000 litres per 225 kg of coffee to 200 litres
  • Replacement of ageing coffee trees
  • Intercropping and shade tree production programmes
  • Conversion to organic and sustainable production techniques – three member co-ops are now certified organic (2006); production of organic fertiliser
  • Farm visits from agricultural technicians to provide technical assistance and organise horticultural workshops
  • Reforestation of 5,000 hectares
  • Education in the appropriate management of solid waste.

Business and social projects:

  • Business development programmes and field workshops such as quality control improvement systems
  • Road and bridge repairs – hurricane damage regularly brings down bridges and blocks roads with mud slides. This is widespread and beyond government resources, so growers can’t bring their crop to the processing plant unless the co-op repairs the damage
  • Secondary school and university scholarships for farmers' children - almost 1,750 provided to date (October 2006)
  • Providing computers, other equipment and teaching materials to rural schools; improving and maintaining school buildings
  • Ongoing support to training courses provided by the government’s National Institute of Learning for income generating schemes for women and to reduce dependence on coffee – cultivating ornamental plants and flowers; chicken farming and egg production; sales of handicrafts in their own shop
  • Eco-tourism, quarterly newsletter for members, and own web site


Coffee in Costa Rica:

  • Coffee accounts for around 11% of export revenues and employs 5% of the labour force
  • The coffee industry is privatised but is regulated and supported by the Instituto de Café de Costa Rica (Icafé)
  • A unique system is operated whereby farmers deliver their coffee to a processing plant or beneficio and Icafé specifies the commissions to which the beneficio, exporter, government and Icafé itself are entitled. Most of Coocafe’s member co-operatives have now developed the capacity to operate as beneficios.

Fairtrade Foundation 2006

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