World Coffee Research Q&A: Meet Sara Bogantes
Coffee has always been a passion for Sara Bogantes. Coming from a coffee-producing family in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, she has been connected to coffee for as long as she can remember. Trained in agronomy, phytopathology, and agroecology, Sara has worked in germplasm banks and studied the genetics of coffee. Now she leads the Global Coffee Monitoring Program in Latin America, a network of small, on-farm demonstration trials that show farmers the benefits of genetically improved coffee varieties. We talked to Sara to learn more about her background, the program, and why she finds helping farmers gratifying.
World Coffee Research: What is your academic and professional background?
Sara Bogantes: I studied agronomy at the University of Costa Rica, then I continued my studies in Brazil in phytopathology and agroecology. I returned to Costa Rica, but I still wanted to know more about the origin of coffee and its relationship with quality. I then headed to Allegro Coffee in Boulder, Colo., where I did an internship to understand coffee quality with their director of sourcing, Christy Thorns.
After college, I worked for a long time in germplasm banks, where I made crosses and identified potential varieties in Costa Rica’s Central Valley coffee-producing region. This was a passion for me, as I love studying genetics and the traceability of materials. After that, I worked for a seed export company called San Pol S.A., developing quality protocols and working on the selection of seeds lots, processes in the wet mills, phytosanitary permits, and the requirements to export seeds in every Latin American country.
I have always been interested in coffee because I come from a coffee-producing family. I feel personally vested in the success of coffee farmers, and they face so many challenges now. We know that the price of coffee is volatile, but this is not the only limitation that coffee producers currently face. The effects of climate change are also extreme, and many farmers don’t have the resources to invest in renovating their farms with varieties that can produce coffee amid these challenging modern conditions. The profitability and productivity of producers is at risk, and I want to help them through my work in coffee.
WCR: Can you briefly describe what the Global Coffee Monitoring Program does?
SB: The Global Coffee Monitoring Program is focused on performing a cost—benefit analysis for small, medium and large coffee producers, measuring production and economic profitability of three varieties with three different agronomic treatments. Participating farmers have plots with two improved coffee varieties and two soil treatments, along with the farmers’ current variety and soil practice as controls for comparison.
WCR: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as the leader of the program in Latin American, and what does the program look like as it progresses?
SB: My daily job is to coordinate the activities for the program with the agronomists in each country in Latin America. The specific tasks will vary depending on how far along the program is in various regions. When the program starts in a country, my goals include identifying partners, negotiating roles, signing agreements, visiting sites, etc. Before a plot is planted, we’re involved in training partners on data collection and doing initial data collection, and as the program proceeds we collect regular coffee bean data and collect harvest samples for quality analysis (both of these tasks start in year 3).
WCR: What is enjoyable to you about your job?
SB: Coffee is my passion because I was born into this crop—it is part of my history and part of my life. While price is a very important element for the sustainability of coffee producers, there are many actions they can take at the farm level that I'm interested in. These include selecting varieties that can weather the current climate and resist disease; knowing how to care for these varieties; mitigating costs that don’t directly affect production; improving the structure of their soil; and using shade trees to reduce the effects of climate change. I believe that the path to long-term sustainability is not easy for coffee farmers, but by investing in their farms, caring for their trees, and running their farms as businesses, they are positioned to succeed in this difficult environment.