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It wouldn't seem fair to share the achievements of San Isidro as Fair Trade City without giving proper cknowledgement to CoopeAgri R.L. CoopeAgri is the largest employer in San Isidro and is the one mainly responsible for the city of San Isidro achieving the title of Fair Trade City.

 

 

CoopeAgri was born November 25, 1962 as the option to solve the problems of industrialization and marketing of coffee faced by small and medium farmers of San Isidro de Perez Zeledon.  Since its foundation, CoopeAgri has evolved in terms of technology, level of production and development alternatives. It started with a “beneficio” that processed 12,000 sacks of coffee and had 391 members.  Today, three and a half decades later, CoopeAgri is a company recognized as a national model in Costa Rica and across Latin America thanks to diversification covering areas such as agricultural, industrial, commercial and financial.

It currently has more than 10,000 members and has become a pioneer in boosting economic growth in the vast area of southern Costa Rica.

CoopeAgri is governed by a high sense humanistic approach to achieving excellence in product quality, both for local consumption and even more so for the demanding international markets.

Difficult conditions in the Valle del General

Decades ago Perez Zeledon had a very poor road infrastructure and local farmer's producer's frequently experienced serious problems when trying to get their harvests in.  The coffee market was difficult and it was in the hands a select few private enterprises, which lessened the grower's profit on the product value chain.  In the words of Rafael Angel Barquero, founder of CoopeAgri, "We were exploited. Our coffee was bought on the street when the major coffee buyers felt like it, and they paid the price they wanted without providing any receipt, thus the farmer lost the right to receive any benefit from a rise in consumer demand and higher market prices. These coffee buyers then took it to the Central Plateau for resale without any type of control by anyone.”
A group of citizens saw that the needs of the coffee producers could promote the emergence of a cooperative organization that would foster a solidarity work ethic and better economic conditions. Nicanor Alejandro Hidalgo-Rojas, Bishop Delfin Quesada, Father Arguedas and Milton Fonseca Delio-Balmaceda were men who immersed themselves in the promotion of cooperative work in this canton and the new cooperative organization.

Birth of a dream come true

After painstaking work at the community level with meetings here and there, and with hopes and disappointments, 391 coffee growers meet at the Teatro Fallas, in San Isidro de El General, on 25 November 1962.  Reaching a consensus of opinion, the group of growers voted that day for the formation of CoopereZeledón RL.

The first President of the Governing Council was the late Claudio Gamboa Calderon and the title of General Manager was given to Milton Fonseca Balmaceda, who has been called the "father" of the cooperative.

To begin its work the new cooperative rented the San Jorge Beneficio owned by the National Bank, which had a capacity to process 12,000 sacks of raw coffee.  After only two years, the organization was able to buy the coffee mill from the bank.  In the late sixties the “coffee crisis” was affecting the area and CoopereZeledón saw the need to diversify its income stream, so on November 9, 1969 they opened “Supermercado Cooperativo,” the first large-scale, modern supermarket in the area.   Before its opening there were only small groceries to shop at in the canton and few supermarkets in the entire southern region.

In 1972, the production of sugar cane was added to the cooperative's roster and the name of the organization was changed to CoopeAgri R.L. By 1974 sugar cane production was firmly entrenched in the southern zone, especially so around the town of Peñas Blancas.  A central sugar mill had been opened which had the capacity of milling one thousand tons daily.  To ensure that only the highest quality product was being produced, production was officially monitored by both local and national agencies as well as local and foreign private consultant.

Paralleling the development of agribusiness activities CoopeAgri has ventured into the production of raw materials in cooperative owned farms and rented land, through the management of the Agricultural Area. As agricultural inputs are unpredictable for farmers in 1980 CoopeAgri RL creates the Supply Depot, as a regulator of prices in the area. In 1984 the opening of an agro-supply store allowed farmers to purchase tools, equipment and fertilizers at better prices through the power of large scale buying.

New Headquarters for CoopeAgri R.L.

In 1988 the cooperative entered the forestry business as a response to government initiatives to protect rainforests by promoting sustainable forestry. The Division of Forestry Operations was born to spread a culture of conservation and responsible management of forests and other natural resources and develop timber plantations on farms in the cooperative for its own use.

In 1995, the Division of Savings and Credit RL CoopeAgri was born.  Named Credecoop RL, it is basically a farmer's credit union which is subject to government banking rules and regulations.  Credecoop has proved to be a great asset to the many small farmers in the area.

In January of 1996 an important step forward was made in providing added value to coffee.  A new law required coffee processors to allocate 2% of their coffee for domestic consumption, then that percentage is sold to domestic roasters at very low prices.  But CoopeAgri RL wanted to come to the table for the consumer and that is when Procafé S.A. was born.  Procafé produces and markets roasted and ground coffee specifically for the end-user consumer market.  Branded as Café del Valle, which you can find it today in any Costa Rican supermarket offering the variety of Café del Valle Puro and Café del Valle Dark and along with the economy coffee brand, Los Gemelos.

In April 1997, CoopeAgri acquired the Charlemagne service station: it was rebuilt and modernized, opening the new CoopeAgri R.L. service station.

In the nineties CoopeAgri R.L. increases its participation in the consumer market with the opening of the AM-PM convenience stores and two more supermarkets.

By 2001 CoopeAgri was processing more coffee than any other beneficio in the canton, but they were still selling all their processed coffee within the country to international companies at whatever price these companies dictated. Management then placed Gilbert Ramirez as manager of beneficio operations and international sales. Mr. Gilbert Ramirez has been largely responsible for the past decades coffee success story of CoopeAgri. Mr. Ramirez is as intense as the day is long and he has had the experience of cupping many fine coffees from around the world.  He became convinced that there was no need to be selling premium quality Costa Rican coffee to international companies only to have them to reduce them into inferior blends.  He was certain that if put to the test in the world market of specialty coffee, Costa Rica would stand alone.

That is when a new and exciting journey for the coffee growers of southern Costa Rica began as they took their coffees direct to the grueling and unforgiving world marketplace. What CoopeAgri was convinced of became clearly confirmed across the globe! In less than 4 years from their initial offering to the world market, they have succeeded in selling all their specialty coffee direct.  CoopeAgri's coffees are now in demand in over 20 countries in the world from North America to Europe, Asia and the middle-east as well.  CoopeAgri now markets their coffees by region, these regions all being from various parts of Perez Zeledon.

Traceability of the coffee from farmer to market, sustainability, and socio-economics are extremely important issues to CoopeAgri. This is where the whole Fair Trade movement comes into play as all their coffees are Fair Trade certified. In fact, as I writing this there are a million coffee plants being replanted in Perez Zeledon, these being subsidized by proceeds from fair trade endeavors as an effort to improve quality by introducing new plants.

Last but not least, is the exciting news that CoopeAgri through an Alliance ware house in Texas now offers their coffee from six different regions to any roaster in the U.S. who wishes to buy green coffee by the bag. Here the roaster can connect with the farmer and buy his or her coffee direct from the farm and pay far less than the going green market coffee price. I just spoke to a representative and confirmed prices by the pallet for a Costa Rican hard bean at $2.35 per pound! To speak with an agent or to order a cupping chart of these fine coffees call toll free: 1-800-580-3096 or drop them an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
The pages of CoopeAgri's history are being documented in a growing book that has become a “to be continued story”.



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