On International Women’s Day, Starbucks celebrates leading women in the coffee business
At the Farmer Support Center in Costa Rica, Starbucks research and development agronomist Sarah Bogantes is fighting for the future of coffee.. Meet Sarah and 11 other Starbucks women from around the world who are leading the way in coffee.
Recently at Hacienda Alsacia, a Starbucks coffee and research farm in Costa Rica, agronomist Sara Bogantes walks through an outdoor plant nursery, surveying rows of coffee plants at various stages of growth, from three months old and budding to three years old. and about to proceed to the first harvest.
Help cultivate and develop the next generation of coffee plants. Finding hybrids and varieties that have the elusive combination of good taste, high productivity and natural resistance to disease and climate change. And fight every day with science for the future of coffee.
“I’m a fourth-generation coffee farmer, coffee is in my blood,” says Bogantes. “I love the connection with farmers, but at the same time I love to make this connection through new tools, new varieties, new solutions.”
Bogantes works at the Farmer Support Center in Costa Rica, one of 10 that Starbucks has opened around the world. There, he manages the “core collection,” 617 different coffee hybrids and varieties that are freely available to any coffee farmer through the Starbucks open source farming program.
Currently, about 3 million coffee beans from the core collection are distributed annually to farmers in Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, whether or not they sell to Starbucks.
About 230 hybrids in the core collection are being evaluated. Bogantes is part of a research and development team that tries to help find the strongest and best among them.
They send leaf sections to a Swedish lab for analysis to get early genetic clues as to which ones are more resistant to coffee rust and anthracnose, the fungal diseases that kill coffee plants. They conduct tests to see how plants process and absorb nutrients, physically examine root systems and leaf structure, and taste early samples from coffee cherry producers.
After the team identifies those with the most promise, Bogantes works with labs to make micro-sections and tissue cultures, techniques that can speed up propagation and distribution. Stronger plants in the soil, faster, means more income for farmers.
He also works closely with Starbucks Global Head of Research and Development, Carlos Mario Rodríguez, as part of the Farmer Support Center’s overall mission to train farmers directly and create model farms based on CAFE practices around ethical sourcing and sustainability, where all of this knowledge can : spread in practice, and farmers can see for themselves how to create optimal conditions on their own farms.
“He’s very good at teaching farmers, guiding them because of his experience,” Rodriguez says. “Having a young woman who supports and interacts with the farmers is very important and also encourages a lot of young people to just keep working on coffee.”
Bogantes, 35, grew up on his family’s coffee farm in nearby San Isidro de Alajuela. He was deeply affected when the coffee rust epidemic in 2014 destroyed almost all of his family’s coffee trees. He was in the US at that time, working as an intern, when he received an urgent phone call.
“I remember the weather was very cloudy. The day was so dark. It’s raining, it’s cold,” he says, recalling the day he returned home. “And when I went to the coffee plantation, I remember looking at all the coffee trees, completely destroyed.
“You have to control your emotions because your parents are completely destroyed and you have to support them. You also feel completely destroyed inside, but you have to be optimistic because you have to be the person who is supposed to be the light.”
That, and a similar moment a few years later in Puerto Rico, after he watched Hurricanes Maria and Irma nearly wipe out the country’s coffee industry, underscored for Bogantes the urgency of research and solutions. It has been a theme throughout his life, from his early practice in Brazil and the US to his recent work with non-profit organizations such as World Coffee Research and TechnoServe. He joined Starbucks two years ago.
“Nothing makes me feel happier than seeing the smiling faces of coffee producers, conveying hope and supporting them to believe that there is a future in coffee,” says Bogantes. “I feel like I’m living my dreams, but if we want to provide coffee for the next 50 years, we don’t have that much time. That’s my challenge right now.”
Meet leading women in coffee from around the world
From coffee farms to coffee shops, and many points in between, we’re spotlighting 12 Starbucks women who are critical to the coffee business: baristas, store managers, business directors, agronomists, roasters, sustainability and ethical sourcing leaders, and more .