Overcoming a variety of barriers, including geographic isolation, rugged terrain, and a traditionally lower status in society, the women of the Café Femenino Bolivia Program have successfully improved their coffee-producing livelihoods, their future prospects, and the health of their families and communities.
It all started in 2009, when the women separated their coffee production from the men’s, created a women’s association, and started their own Café Femenino Program in Bolivia.
One of the first advancements the women in Bolivia achieved upon joining Café Femenino was having their names included on the titles to their land. This may sound trivial, but by doing so, the land remains with each woman if she becomes abandoned or is widowed, thereby providing protection from further poverty for herself and her children.
Psychologically, this act instills a sense of value and ownership over each woman’s livelihood and business. This is a powerful means of creating self-esteem for women who are accustomed to being viewed as servants to their husbands.
The women have reported a host of positive changes in their lives and their communities since joining Café Femenino in 2009. For them, the most valuable change is their successful creation of a cooperative space in which all women have educational opportunities and the chance to have theirvoices, ideas and opinions heard at the highest level of leadership.
The changes these women have fought for have taken them far from the positions of inferiority and subjugation from which they started. Beginning from a place of low self-esteem and self-worth, the women of the Café Femenino Bolivia Program now view themselves as business women in charge of their own destiny. And with the control of their own money, they have the ability to funnel their resources in the direction of their children and their community.
Head to our latest blog for more on gender quality in coffee farming.
History of Coffee in Bolivia
Bolivian coffee is just starting to make a name for itself in the world of Specialty coffees. Once considered a producer of low-quality coffee, only suitable for blended roasts, Bolivia is working to change its image one bean at a time. For this heavily impoverished country, it is a matter of creating the infrastructure, technology, and skills needed to produce a quality product that supports economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Initiatives such as Fair Trade and organic, along with economic development projects have provided opportunity and support to coffee producers on the local, national, and international level.
Geography and Environment
Bolivia is located in the western heart of South America and covers an area of 1,098,581 square kilometers – roughly three times the size of Montana. Two ranges of the Andes Mountains stretch across western Bolivia and shape the country’s three major geographic regions: the mountainous highlands and Altiplano in the west, the semitropical Yungas and temperate valleys of the eastern mountain slopes, and the tropical lowlands that span across the northern and eastern regions, known as the Oriente.
Coffee production in Bolivia is concentrated in the rural areas of the Yungas, where approximately 95% cultivation occurs. Other growing regions include Santa Cruz, Beni, Cochabamba, Tarija, and Pando. While commercial farms and haciendas exist, governmental land reforms have expropriated most of the large landholdings and redistributed them back to rural farming families3. These small plots range from 1-8 hectares and produce between 85-95% of Bolivia’s coffee, most of which is the Arabica variety and grown organically.
Bolivia has all the ingredients to be a high-quality coffee producer, such as altitude, fertile soil, and a consistent rainy season. However, the rugged terrain and lack of infrastructure and technology make post-harvest quality control a challenging task. Funds from development agencies are working to establish processing facilities in rural areas so that farmers have access to the resources that will help ensure quality beans, while also adding value to their product.
Within the entire industry, 28 privately owned firms control more than 70 percent of coffee export trade. The remaining percentage is traded by Bolivia’s 17 coffee cooperatives. Both the private and cooperative sectors are members of the Bolivian Coffee Committee, or Cobolca. Most of Bolivia’s (green) beans are exported to the United States, Germany and other parts of Europe, the Russian Federation, and Japan.

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